Rescue crews going house to house in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian have encountered harrowing scenes, including scores of stranded people and at least one house that was completely submerged with human remains inside.
Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s emergency management director, said during a Friday morning press briefing that authorities are reviewing 21 fatalities to see if they’re related to the catastrophic hurricane. The death toll is expected to rise as many parts of Lee County—including the barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva—remain inaccessible by road, slowing the rescue process.
Guthrie said that crews spotted an undisclosed number of drowning victims at a house in an undisclosed part of Lee County.
“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,” he said. “We do not know exactly how many... until the water recedes and we have the special equipment to get in there.”
On Friday afternoon, the confirmed death toll stood at 25, according to CNN.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said officials “fully expect to have mortality from this hurricane.” He said late Thursday that at least 700 rescues had been completed, though it remained unclear how many more people are still trapped. After surveying some coastal towns from the air on Thursday, DeSantis called the damage “indescribable.”
One of those deaths occurred in the town of New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County, where 67-year-old Jerry Argo and his wife found themselves trapped inside their home Thursday night as the unrelenting storm surged. While the couple waited to be rescued, Argo slipped inside the house, hitting his head on the floor, his step-grandson Samuel Mackey told The Daily Beast on Friday.
Unable to get up again, Argo died as the floodwaters rose over him, according to authorities. His wife, Alice, and the pair’s two dogs, survived and are now staying in a temporary shelter.
In Fort Myers, a 4-month-old baby went into cardiac arrest after rolling over into a position that restricted his airway. However, the child’s mom, certified lifeguard Mariah Lane, began performing CPR and managed to revive her son, who is named Ace, before paramedics arrived moments later.
“His mother... was out [of the room] cooking,” the baby’s grandfather, Richard Miller, told The Daily Beast. “And every five minutes or so, she goes and checks on him. And this time, he had rolled over. And she picked him up, and his face was all blue.”
Meanwhile, the family’s neighbors have banded together to help one another recover and rebuild.
“If one doesn’t have, the other one gives,” Miller said. “We’ve helped several neighbors help put up shutters, and helped take them down. If somebody doesn’t have a generator, there’s a cord going across the street from another house.”
Ian left widespread flooding, catastrophic infrastructure damage, and ongoing power outages after it made landfall in Florida on Wednesday afternoon as one of the most powerful storms in American history.
After making landfall as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds on Thursday, Ian steadily lost power before regaining strength over the Atlantic.
The storm made a second landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina, just before 2:30 p.m. Friday afternoon as a Category 1 storm with 85 mph winds.
On Friday morning, the National Weather Service said a danger from life-threatening storm surge will be in effect along the coasts of northeast Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Hurricane-force winds are also expected to batter the coasts of South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina.
Although officials have issued warnings to residents in all of the states in Ian’s projected paths, fears are particularly strong for those in low-lying Charleston, South Carolina, where nine out of 10 residential properties are thought to be vulnerable to storm surge flooding.
Biblical downpours that accompanied Ian are already threatening to push river flooding to record levels in Central Florida in the coming days, the National Hurricane Center said. As many as half the roads in some areas of the state were made impassable by floods.
Collapses of several sections of the only bridge between the mainland and Sanibel Island—a vacation hotspot off the coast of Fort Myers—left the island inaccessible by road. At least two fatalities on the island were confirmed late Thursday.
Over two million customers were still without power on Friday morning, according to tracking site PowerOutage.us.
After a state of emergency was declared in South Carolina, the state’s emergency management division issued urgent advice on Friday before Ian’s arrival. Residents in affected areas were instructed to avoid walking in moving water or driving through flooded areas. “If there’s any possibility of a flash flood, move to higher ground,” the organization tweeted. “Do not wait to be told to move.”
—with additional reporting by Michael Daly