Stunned by one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history, Florida and the Carolinas faced a huge recovery on Saturday as Hurricane Ian’s leftovers threatened severe flooding down the Eastern Seaboard while leaving tens of billions of dollars in damage in its wake.
The number of confirmed deaths from Ian has risen to at least 50, with the majority occurring in Lee County, Florida, which bore the brunt of the storm when it made landfall on the state’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles (240 kilometers per hour).
The death toll was expected to climb as floodwaters receded and search teams reached more areas initially cut off by the storm.
As of Friday, some 10,000 people were reported unaccounted for in Florida, according to the state’s emergency management director, who added that many of those were likely safe in shelters or otherwise unreachable because of power and phone outages.
As the full extent of devastation came into clearer focus three days after Ian made U.S. landfall, officials said some of the heaviest damage appeared to have been inflicted by raging wind-driven ocean surf that rushed into seaside communities and washed buildings away.
New satellite images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed beach cottages and a motel building that lined the shores of Florida’s Sanibel Island had been demolished by Ian’s storm surge. Although most homes appeared to still be standing, roof damage to all was evident.
Surveys from the ground showed that the barrier island, a popular tourist getaway that was home to some 6,000 residents, was left utterly ravaged, from its infrastructure to its famously idyllic aesthetic character.
Breach of Sanibel’s causeway bridge destroyed the island’s connection to the mainland, hindering recovery operations, according to Souza.
Ian regained hurricane intensity and slammed coastal South Carolina on Friday, smashing ashore near Georgetown, north of the historic port city of Charleston, with sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (140 kph).
Several highways were flooded and obstructed by fallen trees, and several piers were destroyed in the region.