NORTH PORT, Florida –
As Hurricane Ian devastated the coastal cities of Southwest Florida, residents of this sleepy suburb thought they would be safe, with no beach and living outdoors under evacuation orders. But then the water kept flowing.
Since Ian’s passage, water levels have risen significantly, turning roads into ditches, reaching mailboxes, flooding vans and trucks, blocking the main access to an interstate highway and leaving families trapped in their waterlogged homes. . Now, as the days go by, residents here in the Sarasota suburb of North Port are beginning to run out of food and water.
“The water keeps rising. Who knows when it will stop,” said Samuel Almanzar, 42. He was rescued by teams on Friday along with his father, wife and two children, ages 11 and 6.
As rescue efforts wrapped up Friday, local officials recommended evacuating people whose neighborhoods are being flooded. They said the waters in some areas will continue to rise for the next two days.
The flooding in North Port shows that Ian’s impact has not been limited to beaches and tourist towns. Heavy rains from the storm ended up flowing into suburban and inland cities that are not part of hurricane warnings.
It’s the rising rivers that do it because of the hurricane’s deluge, which continues to wreak havoc long after the winds have passed. And it’s leading to rescue efforts not unlike those on the coasts.
Flooding was reported throughout the center of the state: around Orlando and its theme parks, south to Kissimmee, east to Daytona Beach, the cattle country of Arcadia. People near the rivers were deeply affected.
Near North Port, the Florida Department of Transportation closed a stretch of Interstate 75 in both directions Friday night due to flooding from the Myakka River.
Dozens of National Guardsmen arrived early Friday in North Port, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) south of Tampa, to speed up efforts started Wednesday by firefighters from other states and counties. And city officials scrambled to open an evacuation center at a high school.
A mother of two cried on the phone, trying to reach her parents so they could pick them up after leaving her flooded neighborhood. A woman showed rescuers a map to reach families with children in the area upon learning that the water had begun to rise inside their homes. One man waded through waist-deep waters with his 8-year-old daughter, trying to venture out to find supplies.
Megan Blevins, who works at a restaurant in nearby Venice, was trying to help co-workers’ families get out, but said some were not accessible as structures collapsed leaving certain streets inaccessible.
“We can’t take people. We can’t bring people to them. There are some older people that we’re trying to reach because they can’t move,” he said.
Aimee Bowden, 47, said a tree fell on her home, opening a hole in her kitchen and dining room and letting in water. eldest son in a rescue boat.
“I was terrified. You have your whole life uprooted,” Bowden said. “You try to keep thinking about what you have to do.”
Just west of North Port, the National Weather Service forecast the Myakka River would hit a record flood level Friday at 12.55 feet (3.8 meters) and then rise a little higher before receding.
The nearby Peace River was set to hit an even higher mark: nearly 24 feet (7.3 meters), which is about double the previous record. It runs through mostly rural areas, especially the cattle town of Arcadia, which is home to a well-known Florida rodeo.
There was a lot of concern on Friday about the river’s steady rise.
“The unpredictability of the river is real and people are in real danger,” DeSoto County Fire Chief Chad Jorgensen said in a county post. “If you are in these areas, you should get out now.”
After crossing Florida, Ian moved over the Atlantic Ocean where it curved back toward South Carolina on Friday. More than two dozen deaths have been attributed to the storm.
Elvis Padron, 40, a construction worker now seeking political asylum, fled Venezuela with his wife and 8-year-old daughter and crossed the US-Mexico border in February, only to face more hardship.
“My wife refuses to leave. She wants to stay,” said Padrón, who waded through the water to find more supplies and tried to convince his wife over the phone that they should leave. “I feel like we don’t have much time left.”