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Hurricane Ian’s death toll may have surpassed 50, officials say

Florida officials estimate there may be more than 50 deaths across eight counties linked to Hurricane Ian.

Miami/Washington, 1 October 2022 (tca/dpa/MIA) — Florida officials estimate there may be more than 50 deaths across eight counties linked to Hurricane Ian.

At least 18 of the people who died drowned. Three died when their oxygen machines stopped working due to power outages.

The youngest fatality confirmed by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission was a 22-year-old woman in Manatee County. The oldest confirmed death was a 92-year-old man in Lee County.

The official death toll has continued to rise as emergency responders from across the state descend into the hardest-hit areas.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno on Friday afternoon announced 16 storm-related deaths and five non-storm-related deaths. Marceno didn’t provide further details.

That’s the first preliminary fatality count out of the region that Governor Ron DeSantis described as “ground zero” and “where the storm packed its biggest punch.”

DeSantis noted on Friday that some of the newer buildings in the worst-hit areas like Fort Myers Beach, Captiva and Sanibel Island stood up to the storm.

“But man, I’ll tell you, those older homes that just aren’t as strong built, they got washed into the sea, some of them,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “And so if you were hunkering down in that, that is something that I think would be difficult to be survivable.”

In Sarasota County, where four deaths have been confirmed, Sheriff Kurt Hoffman described the storm as “significant and catastrophic.”

“I’ve lived in this community for over four decades and I have never seen a storm of this strength that has done this much damage,” Hoffman said Friday.

Guthrie described a grim situation at a home in an undisclosed location in Lee County with apparent drowning victims.

“Let me paint the picture for you. The water was up over the rooftop but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify what appeared to be human remains.”

Guthrie noted that there are “a couple of other situations” in the area with similar circumstances.

Much of the county remains without power or water. There were 3-meter-high (10-foot-high) storm surges when the hurricane made landfall, Marceno said.

“It’s definitely the worst thing I’ve seen in my life, and I’m a lifelong Floridian,” Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman told the Miami Herald on Friday. “We don’t even have water getting to the hospitals.”

Addressing the powerful storm that devastated Florida this week and reconstituted Friday in the Atlantic for a second US landfall in South Carolina, US President Joe Biden said it was “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history.”

“It’s not just a crisis for Florida. It’s an American crisis,” Biden said. “My message to the people of South Carolina is simple: Please listen to all of the warnings and directions from local officials, and follow their instructions.”

Ian landed in Florida on Wednesday as a strong Category 4 hurricane, and struck South Carolina Friday as a Category 1 storm.

Biden has issued a major disaster declaration for Florida, and individual disaster declarations for 13 Florida counties, ensuring that the federal government will pay the entire cost of debris removal left in the storm’s wake.

He has also declared an emergency for South Carolina, enabling federal responders to preposition themselves in the state ahead of the hurricane’s landfall.

“Every single minute counts,” Biden said. “It’s going to take months — years — to rebuild.”

Biden has spoken with the Republican governors of both states — Ron DeSantis of Florida and Henry McMaster of South Carolina — by phone, assuring them they will have every federal resource they need, he said.

But of the two, “the situation in Florida is far more devastating,” Biden said, speaking from the White House.

“At my direction, we predeployed the largest team of search-and-rescue experts in recent history, because so many of the rescuers need to take place now, need to be in place now, in the water now,” Biden said.

So far, federal authorities have successfully rescued 117 people in the Fort Myers and Naples areas.

“It’s likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” Biden said. “I just want the people of Florida to know, we see what you’re going through and we’re with you.”

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