Hurricane Ian carved out a path of devastation across Florida, killing at least one person while trapping others inside their flooded homes, downing trees and knocking out power for millions.
Some buildings were ripped apart by the storm’s punishing winds while others were swept away entirely by the catastrophic flooding. Many streets across Florida were left impassable, turned from roads to flowing rivers thanks to torrential rainfall brought by Ian, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm.
In Port Charlotte, the storm surge flooded a hospital’s emergency room, forcing waters through the halls of the Intensive Care Unit.
Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a catastrophic Category 4 storm with windspeeds topping 150 mph. Despite its weakening, it is one of the strongest hurricanes to barrel into the west coast of the Florida peninsula and continues to unleash torrential rain, catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surge.
The tropical storm is expected to regain near-hurricane strength after emerging over Atlantic waters near the Kennedy Space Center, with South Carolina in its sights for another landfall.
With windspeeds of about 60 mph, Tropical Storm Ian was crawling inland Thursday morning at a speed of about 8 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. As of 8 a.m., the storm system was located about 40 miles southeast of Orlando and 10 miles southwest of Cape Canaveral. Ian’s center is expected to move off the coast of Florida Thursday afternoon and then approach South Carolina overnight, moving further inland across the Carolinas Friday and Saturday night.
President Biden on Thursday declared Hurricane Ian a major disaster in Florida, ordering federal aid to help with recovery. The declaration will make funding available in the counties of Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota.
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First responders and law enforcement officers across several Florida cities are still waiting for the storm to pass before taking to the streets. Florida Power and Light said it needed windspeeds to drop to about 35 mph before they can go out to assess damage to power infrastructure.
“We’re going to have crews out there as soon as it’s safe to do so,” David Reuter, spokesperson for Florida Power and Light told CNN. “Once we’re able to do that, it should take about 24 hours for us to have an assessment of the extensive nature — or maybe not so in certain parts — to figure out where we can start restoring the power.”
Reuter added: “Our goal here is to get the power back on as quickly as possible but most importantly, we’re going to do that safely.”
More than 2.5 million Florida homes and businesses were left without electricity, according to the PowerOutage.us site.
The full scope of Ian’s damage remained unclear early Thursday, as Ian’s tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 415 miles, with nearly all of Florida was getting drenched. The storm is expected to dump record-setting rainfall to Central Florida in the coming days, with northeastern and central Florida forecast to get 10 to 20 inches of rain, and up to 30 inches in some spots, the National Hurricane Center said.
The heavy rain has already caused flash flooding in parts of the Sunshine State, particularly in urban areas, along with river flooding that is likely to last for days after Ian is over.
With News Wire Services