Rescuers evacuated shocked survivors from a large barrier island cut off by Hurricane Ian as Florida’s death toll climbed rapidly and hundreds of thousands of people remained without power days after the massive storm pounded off the southwestern coast of the state and even the carolinas.
Florida, with nearly four dozen dead, was the hardest hit by the Category 4 hurricane, one of the strongest to make landfall in the United States. Flooded streets and destroyed bridges to barrier islands left many people isolated, with limited cell phone signal and without basic resources such as water, electricity and internet.
Florida Governor Ron De Santis said on Saturday that billionaire Elon Musk would provide some 120 Starlink satellites to “help solve some of the communication problems.” Starlink, a satellite-based internet system created by Musk’s company SpaceX, will offer high-speed connections.
Florida utility companies were working to restore power. As of Saturday night, nearly 1 million homes and businesses were still without power, up from 2.67 million a few days earlier.
At least 54 deaths have been confirmed, 47 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba.
More than 1,000 people had been rescued from flooded areas along Florida’s southwest coast alone, Daniel Hokanson, a four-star general and chief of the National Guard, told The Associated Press while traveling to Florida.
In Washington, the White House announced that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden would travel to Florida on Wednesday. The brief statement gave no further details about the visit.
The bridge to Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast, was destroyed in the storm, making it accessible only by air or boat. The Medic Corps volunteer group, which sends pilots, paramedics and doctors to areas affected by natural disasters, went door to door asking neighbors if they wanted to be evacuated.
Some left by helicopter, with people describing the horror of being trapped in their homes as the water continued to rise.
“The water kept hitting the house and we saw boats, houses, everything flew by,” Joe Conforti said, fighting back tears. He said that had it not been for his wife, who suggested they climb on a table to avoid the water, he would not have survived. “When you have the water on the door and banging on the door and you see how fast it goes, there is no way to survive that.”
The overflow of rivers posed a huge challenge for the rescue and delivery of supplies. The Myakka River flooded a section of Interstate 75, which had to be temporarily closed on Saturday.
Although river levels in southwest Florida have peaked or are close to peaking, levels aren’t expected to drop significantly for days, said Tyler Fleming, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tampa.
In North Carolina, the storm downed trees and power lines. Two of the four deaths in the state were due to vehicle crashes associated with the storm. The other two were a man who drowned when his truck fell into a swamp and another died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in a garage.
Kinnard reported from Pawleys Island, South Carolina; Associated Press journalists Freida Frisaro in Miami; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla.; Gerald Herbert in Pine Island, Florida; Mike Pesoli in Lehigh Acres, Fla.; Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Va.; and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.