Florida’s death toll from Hurricane Ian tops 100 as the search for survivors continues

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Satellite view of Hurricane Ian near the Caribbean Islands on 9/26/2022 (Photo: NOAA)

(CNN) — The number of people killed in Florida by Hurricane Ian rose to at least 100 on Monday, days after the storm made landfall at Category 4 strength, decimating coastal towns and leaving rescue crews searching for survivors while communities face the daunting task of rebuilding.

At least 54 people died in Lee County alone, Sheriff Carmine Marceno said Monday – up from the county’s previously announced death toll of 42 – and officials there are facing questions about whether evacuation orders should have been issued earlier. Twenty-four deaths were recorded in Charlotte County – up from 12.

Hurricane Ian also contributed to the deaths of eight people in Collier County, five in Volusia County, three in Sarasota County, two in Manatee County, and one each in Polk, Lake, Hendry and Hillsborough counties, officials said. Four other people died in storm-related incidents as Ian churned into North Carolina.

More than 1,600 people have been rescued from Hurricane Ian’s path in parts of southwest and central Florida since last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said Sunday.

Now, as blue skies return, Floridians who took shelter while the hurricane raged have emerged – many of them still without power or clean drinking water – to find their communities unrecognizable.

Nearly 600,000 homes, businesses and other customers in Florida still did not have power as of early Monday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.us. Many are without clean tap water, with well over 100 boil-water advisories in places around the state, according to Florida Health Department data.

In Naples, Hank DeWolf’s 4,000-pound boat dock was carried through a condo complex by the powerful hurricane, landing in his neighbor’s yard. And the water brought someone’s car into his own backyard. He doesn’t know who it belongs to or how to remove it.

As crews in Naples comb through the wreckage to make sure no one is still trapped, residents face the enormous task ahead of cleaning up and restoring the city, Jay Boodheshwar, city manager of Naples, told CNN.

“People need to take care of their emotional and mental health, because we’re really going to need to work together on this,” Boodheshwar said.

Naples received record-high storm surge, when the hurricane sent rising ocean water flooding into the city’s streets and tearing through its infrastructure.

“The amount of water that we received and the height of the surge affected a lot of the infrastructure,” Boodheshwar said. “So there are transformers that are fried. It is not simply rehanging lines. There are things that may need to be replaced.”

Similar scenes are playing out in other communities. Hurricane Ian – expected to be the most expensive storm in Florida’s history – devastated neighborhoods from the state’s western coast to inland cities like Orlando.

In some cases, emergency workers out searching for signs of life are at the same time contending with losing their own homes.

“Some of the guys on Pine Island, they lost everything, but they’re doing what they can,” said emergency physician Dr. Ben Abo, who was preparing to join first responders on a rescue mission Sunday near decimated Sanibel Island and Pine Island.

And the flooding isn’t over yet.

Seminole County continues to experience significant flooding in certain neighborhoods, with families being rescued from waist-high waters over the weekend.

Days after the hurricane left, flooding continues to increase in areas near the St. Johns River, Lake Monroe, and Lake Harney, with an additional 100 homes suffering floodwater damage over the last 24 hours, Seminole County emergency management officials told CNN affiliate WESH.

FEMA alone cannot rebuild and provide assistance to all the communities impacted by Hurricane Ian, former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told CNN Sunday. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development can provide grants to communities impacted by hurricanes and other natural disasters to help people get back on their feet, Fugate added.

“It’s just not the coast of Florida that’s been impacted. We’ve got impacts all the way through Orlando, up to the East Coast. Places like St. Augustine had devastating flooding,” Fugate stressed.

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