CHARLESTON, SC (AP) — A revived Hurricane Ian battered the South Carolina coast on Friday, tearing apart piers and flooding streets, after the violent storm caused catastrophic damage in Florida, trapping thousands in their homes and killing at least 17 people.
The powerful storm, estimated to be one of the costliest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S., terrorized people for much of the week – battering western Cuba and sweeping through Florida before settling in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean has gained strength to bend back and strike South Carolina.
While Ian’s center made landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina on Friday with much weaker winds than when it crossed Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week, the storm left many areas of the peninsula in downtown Charleston submerged. It also washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two in Myrtle Beach.
Online cameras showed up to calf-high neighborhoods in Garden City filled with seawater. As Ian drove over South Carolina on Friday night en route to North Carolina, it fell from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone.
Ian left a wide swath of destruction in Florida, flooding areas on both coasts, ripping houses off their panels, destroying beachfront businesses and leaving more than 2 million people without power.
Many of the deaths were drownings, including that of a 68-year-old woman who was washed out to sea by a wave. A 67-year-old man, who was awaiting rescue, died after falling into rising water at his home, authorities said.
Other storm-related fatalities included a 22-year-old woman who died of road wash-out after an ATV rolled over and a 71-year-old man who fell from a roof while putting up rain shutters. An 80-year-old woman and a 94-year-old man who depended on oxygen equipment also died after the equipment stopped working during power outages.
Another three people died in Cuba earlier in the week as the storm moved north. The death toll was expected to rise significantly once emergency responders have a chance to search many of the hardest-hit areas.
Rescue teams steered boats and waded through Florida riverways after the storm to rescue thousands of people trapped between flooded homes and destroyed buildings.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that crews went door-to-door to over 3,000 homes in the hardest-hit areas.
“It was really a Herculean effort,” he said during a news conference in Tallahassee.
Hurricane Ian likely caused “well over $100 billion” in damage, including $63 billion in privately insured damage, according to catastrophe modeling firm Karen Clark & Company, which regularly issues lightning disaster estimates. If confirmed, Ian would be at least the fourth costliest hurricane in US history.
Florida Division of Emergency Management director Kevin Guthrie said first responders had so far focused on “hasty” searches aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, which would be followed by two more waves of searches. First responders who come across possible remains leave them without confirmation, he said on Friday, describing the case of a submerged house as an example.
“The water was above the roof, yes, but we had a Coast Guard lifeguard swim in and he could tell it was human remains. We don’t know exactly how many,” Guthrie said.
In a desperate bid to locate and rescue loved ones, social media users have shared phone numbers, addresses, and photos of their family members and friends online with anyone who can see them.
Orlando residents returned to their flooded homes Friday, rolling up their pants to wade through muddy, knee-high water on their streets. Friends of Ramon Rodriguez delivered ice, bottled water and hot coffee at the entrance to his subdivision, where 10 of the 50 homes were flooded and the street looked like a lake. He had no electricity or food in his house and his car was trapped in the water.
“There’s water everywhere,” Rodriguez said. “The situation here is pretty bad.”
The devastating storm surge destroyed many older homes on the offshore island of Sanibel, Florida, and carved cracks in the sand dunes. Higher residential buildings were intact, but the bottom floor had been blown out. Trees and power poles were scattered everywhere.
City rescue workers, private teams and the Coast Guard used boats and helicopters on Friday to evacuate residents who stayed because of the storm and were then cut off from the mainland when a levee collapsed. Volunteers, who went to the island in private watercraft, helped escort an elderly couple to an area, where they were boarded a helicopter by Coast Guard rescuers.
Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida Peninsula, Ian regained strength Thursday night over the Atlantic. Ian landed in South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 km/h). When it hit Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, it was a powerful Category 4 hurricane traveling at 150 mph.
After the heaviest rain swept through Charleston, Will Shalosky examined a large elm tree in front of his home that had fallen across his downtown street. He found the damage could have been far worse.
“If that tree had fallen any other way, it would have been in our house,” Shalosky said. “It’s pretty scary, pretty upsetting.”
Ian’s torrential rain and winds hit North Carolina Friday night. Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents to be vigilant as up to eight inches of rain could fall in some areas
“Hurricane Ian is on our doorstep. Expect rain and sustained high winds over most of our state,” Cooper said. “Our message today is simple: Be smart and be safe.”
In Washington, President Joe Biden said he was ordering “every possible action to save lives and assist survivors.”
“Rebuilding will take months, years,” Biden said.
“I just want the people of Florida to know that we’re seeing what you’re going through and we’re with you.”
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