FORT MYERS, Florida –
With the death toll approaching three dozen, rescuers searched for survivors Saturday among Florida homes destroyed by Hurricane Ian, while authorities in South Carolina began assessing damage from the powerful storm as Stunned residents began the arduous task of assessing their losses.
Ian, one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the US, terrified millions for most of the week, pummeling western Cuba before ripping through Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where it made an assault end to the Carolinas. The storm then weakened throughout the day as it moved into the mid-Atlantic.
At least 34 people were confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida, mostly from drowning but others from the storm’s tragic aftereffects. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut down when they lost power, authorities said. Four more deaths were reported in North Carolina and three earlier in the week in Cuba.
As of Saturday, more than 1,000 people had been rescued from flooded areas along Florida’s southwest coast, Daniel Hokanson, a four-star general and chief of the National Guard, told The Associated Press while flying to Florida.
Chris Schnapp was at the Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers on Saturday, waiting to see if his 83-year-old mother-in-law had been evacuated from Sanibel Island. A pontoon boat had just arrived with a load of passengers from the island, with suitcases and animals in tow, but Schnapp’s mother-in-law was not among them.
“She stayed on the island. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law have two businesses there. They evacuated. She didn’t want to leave, thinking it wasn’t going to be bad,” Schnapp said. But then he found out Friday night that her mother-in-law would arrive at the marina: “Now we don’t know if she’s still on the island or she got on a bus,” and they took her to a shelter, Schnapp said. . .
South Carolina’s Pawleys Island, a coastal community about 73 miles (117 kilometers) off the coast of Charleston, was one of the places hardest hit by Ian, and power was still out on at least half the island on Saturday.
Eddie Wilder, who has come to Pawleys Island for more than six decades, said Friday’s storm was “crazy to watch.” He said waves up to 25 feet (7.6 meters) washed away the pier, an iconic landmark, just two doors down from his home.
“We saw it hit the pier and the pier was gone,” said Wilder, whose house sits about 30 feet (9 meters) above the ocean and remained dry inside. “We saw it fall apart and we saw it float with an American flag still flying.”
Pawleys Pier was one of at least four along the South Carolina coast that were destroyed during Ian’s winds and rain. Parts of the pier, including barnacle-covered pylons, littered the beach. The Intracoastal Waterway was littered with the remains of several boathouses that fell off their pilings during the storm.
Traffic was shut down at the southernmost point of Pawleys Island, where crews were working to clear roads of sand and other debris that authorities said had piled up at least a foot high. The sand will later be redistributed to rebuild the dunes along the beachfront, as happened after a similar event in 2019.
Many of the raised beach houses still had feet of sand underneath, with dunes completely washed out and nearly flattened.
John Joseph, whose father built the family’s beige beach house in 1962, said Saturday he was elated to return from Georgetown, which took a direct hit, to find his Pawleys Island home completely intact.
“Thank God these walls are still here, and we feel very blessed that this is the worst,” he said of the sand swept under his house. “What happened in Florida, God, God bless us. If we had a Category 4, it wouldn’t be here.”
In North Carolina, the storm claimed at least four lives and appeared to have mostly downed trees and power lines, leaving more than 280,000 people statewide without power on Saturday morning, according to state officials.
Separate vehicle crashes claimed two lives in the storm, North Carolina officials said, with one man drowning when his truck plunged into a swamp and another man dying of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in a locked garage.
The storm’s winds were much weaker Friday than when Ian made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week. Authorities and volunteers were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to understand what they had just experienced.
“I want to sit in a corner and cry. I don’t know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said after shuffling through her near-destroyed Fort Myers apartment, mud from the kitchen clinging to her purple sandals.
On Saturday, a long line of people waited outside an O’Reilly’s auto parts store in Port Charlotte, where a sign read: “We have generators now.” Hundreds of cars were lined up outside a Wawa gas station, and some people were walking, carrying canisters of gasoline to their nearby cars.
At the Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers, charter boat captain Ryan Kane was assessing damage to two boats Saturday after storm surge pushed several boats and a pier ashore. He said that the ship he owns was totaled. He said he couldn’t use it to help rescue people, and it would be a long time before he was chartering fishing clients.
“There’s a hole in the hull. It took water to the engines. It took water to everything,” he said, adding: “Boats are supposed to be in the water, not in parking lots.”
Kinnard reported from Pawleys Island, South Carolina; Associated Press contributors include Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida; Terry Spencer and Tim Reynolds in Fort Myers, Florida; Cody Jackson in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Fla.; Daniel Kozin in North Port, Fla.; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Bobby Caina Calván in New York; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina.