Sunday, June 23, 2024

As Ian Weakens Inland, Recovery is Underway in the Carolinas and Florida — Where More Flooding is Possible

Hurricane - Ft Meyers (Ricardo Arduengo-AFP-Getty Images)
An aerial picture taken on Friday shows the only access to the Matlacha neighborhood destroyed in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida. – (Ricardo Arduengo-AFP-Getty Images)

*(CNN) — As Ian, now a post-tropical cyclone, pushes rain across the central Appalachians Saturday, people are taking stock of the damage it caused in the Carolinas and especially Florida, where at least 45 have been reported dead in what was one of the most devastating hurricanes in the Sunshine State’s history.

In Florida, the hurricane’s effects will be felt into next week, as forecasters warn of possible major river flooding inland. Near Sarasota, a possible levee break has forced officers to evacuate a neighborhood early Saturday over flooding concerns.

Ian smashed into southwest Florida as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday, pulverizing coastal homes and trapping residents with floodwaters, especially in the Fort Myers and Naples areas. It pushed through the peninsula into Thursday, bringing strong winds and damaging flooding.

The hurricane then made another landfall Friday in South Carolina between Charleston and Myrtle Beach as a Category 1 storm, flooding homes and vehicles along the shoreline and eventually knocking out power for hundreds of thousands more in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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Flood Waters - So Carolina (Jonathan Drake-Reuters)
Flood Waters – So Carolina (Jonathan Drake-Reuters)

Editor’s note: Affected by the storm? Use CNN’s lite site for low bandwidth. You also can text or WhatsApp your Ian stories to CNN +1 332-261-0775.

Live updates: Recovery efforts begin in Florida and the Carolinas

In Florida’s hard-hit Fort Myers Beach, where a furious storm surge wiped out homes and left little but debris, shaken survivors are coping with what they saw and mourning those they’ve lost.

Kevin Behen, who rode out the storm on the second floor of a building in Fort Myers Beach, told CNN Friday night he knew of two men who died making sure their wives escaped a home that had begun to flood.

“These guys pushed their wives out the windows to where a tree was,” Behen said. “They just looked at their wives and they said, ‘We can’t hold on anymore, we love you. Bye,’ and that was it.”

About 90% of the island “is pretty much gone,” Fort Myers Beach Town Councilman Dan Allers said Friday. “Unless you have a high-rise condo or a newer concrete home that is built to the same standards today, your house is pretty much gone.”

More than 1.6 million utility customers were without power Saturday morning in four states in Ian’s wake, including 1.2 million in Florida; more than 300,000 in North Carolina; 79,000 in Virginia; and 49,000 in South Carolina, according to

In western Florida early Saturday, concerns over a possible levee break forced sheriff’s officers to go door-to-door in the Sarasota-area community of Hidden River to warn residents of possible flooding there, a sheriff’s office said.

In South Carolina, Ian dumped 7 to nearly 10 inches of rain in some coastal areas, according to National Weather Service data.

How to help victims of Hurricane Ian

Ian had weakened to a post-tropical cyclone by Friday night, and its center — with sustained winds of 25 mph — was near the North Carolina-Virginia state line at 11 a.m. Saturday.

It should dissipate by Saturday evening. By the storm’s end, it may have dumped 2 to 6 inches of rain across parts of the central Appalachians and coastal mid-Atlantic, the hurricane center said.

Damage to South Carolina shores

Authorities in South Carolina began cataloging damage on Pawleys Island, a coastal town roughly 70 miles north of Charleston. The biggest concern there, according to the mayor, is how to remove debris so the island can be safe again.

“It was a Category 1 hurricane, but we experienced tremendous storm surge today, probably beyond what most people anticipated,” Mayor Brian Henry told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday.

“Most of us did not believe we would see the storm surge at 7-plus feet,” Henry said. “It’s beginning to recede, but we have a huge amount of water on the roadways and across the island.”

Pawleys Island residents are not allowed to return home until safety assessments are fully conducted Saturday, police said.

The storm has flooded homes and submerged vehicles along the shoreline. Two piers — one in Pawleys Island and another in North Myrtle Beach — partially collapsed as high winds pushed water even higher.

In Horry County, where North Myrtle Beach in located, crews began removing debris left by the storm. Officials are urging residents to remain home and to not drive.

“It’s a pretty scary sight,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said of the hurricane. “I’m seeing way too many cars passing by. And I think people just don’t realize how dangerous it is to be out in these types of conditions. We’ve seen so many people’s cars get stuck, and emergency personnel has to go out and rescue people.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said on social media Friday, “A lot of prayers have been answered,” adding that the storm is “not as bad as it could have been, but don’t let your guard down yet. We are not out of the woods, there is water on the roads, still heavy winds, and it is still dangerous in many parts of the state.”

Crews race to assist Floridians in need

A swath of destruction was cut across the Florida peninsula Wednesday and Thursday, with communities along the southwestern coast facing the brunt of Ian’s storm surge at landfall. Sanibel and Captiva islands have been cut off from the mainland after parts of a causeway were obliterated by the storm.

Those living in Charlotte County are “facing a tragedy” without homes, electricity or water supplies, said Claudette Smith, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.

“We need everything, to put it plain and simple. We need everything. We need all hands on deck,” Smith told CNN Friday. “The people who have come to our assistance have been tremendously helpful, but we do need everything.”

From Florida’s coastal shores to inland cities such as Orlando, dangerous flooding has forced locals into dire circumstances. In one Orlando neighborhood where deep water has covered roads, some residents traveled by boat to assist others.

Rivers rising due to the substantial rainfall are still impacting areas headed into the weekend. A 12-mile portion of Interstate 75 in Sarasota County is closed in both directions due to the rising Myakka River, according to the Florida Department of Transportation Friday evening.

The US Coast Guard has rescued more than 275 people in Florida, according to Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson, and hundreds of additional rescues were being performed by teams from FEMA and local and state agencies. But post-storm conditions remain a huge challenge, he told CNN on Friday.

“We’re flying and we’re operating in areas that are unrecognizable. There’s no street signs. They don’t look like they used to look like. Buildings that were once benchmarks in the community are no longer there,” he said.

At least 45 deaths suspected to be related to Ian have been reported in Florida, including 16 in Lee County, 12 in Charlotte County, eight in Collier County, four in Volusia County, one in Polk County, one in Lake County, one in Manatee County and two in unincorporated Sarasota County, according to officials. Unconfirmed death cases are being processed by local medical examiners, who decide whether they are disaster-related, state emergency management Director Kevin Guthrie said.

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