Hurricane Ian’s death toll has passed 80 and is expected to continue to rise as floodwaters recede and rescue teams push into cut-off areas.
Meanwhile, authorities are facing criticism for their response to the situation and questions are being raised about whether evacuations in parts of the state were ordered in time.
Hundreds of people have been rescued from flooded or completely flattened houses and buildings. Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis said Thursday that over 700 people had been rescued only from Charlotte and Lee Counties.
Residents have described the storm as “brutal,” describing how they had been forced to evacuate their homes and take last-minute life or death decisions in order to survive as water gushed in.
According to the latest official reports, at least 85 people have died since Ian hit Florida’s Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane with 150-mph maximum sustained winds on Wednesday.
All but four of the deaths were in Florida. The sheriff’s office in coastal Lee County, the area hardest hit by the catastrophic-force storm when it made landfall, counted 42 fatalities while four neighboring counties reported 39.
Lee County officials have faced questions about whether they responded to the alert and ordered evacuations in time.
On Sunday, the county’s Board of Commissioners Chairman Cecil Pendergrass said evacuation orders were issued as soon as the county was forecast to be on the likely track of the hurricane’s center.
However, many people decided to ride the storm out, Mr. Pendergrass stated, adding: “I respect their choices. But I’m sure a lot of them regret it now.”
Four other people died in Carolina del Norte. In South Carolina, where Hurricane Ian made landfall on Friday, no deaths have been reported so far.
Hurricane Ian has shrunk to a weakening post-tropical cyclone as it chugs over land.
The National Hurricane Center has forecast more rain in parts of West Virginia and western Maryland through at least Sunday morning. Experts also warned of “major to record flooding” in central Florida.
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Florida on Wednesday to see the devastation firsthand, the White House announced in a statement.
Florida’s and the Carolinas’ recovery is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.
The Bidens are also set to visit Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona hit the island two weeks ago, leaving hundreds of thousands without power.