Monday, February 6, 2023

Death toll from Hurricane Ian in US and Caribbean exceeds 100

Rotting fish and garbage on the streets of Sanibel Island. On dry land, the rubble of destroyed houses is piled over a canal. Among the remains of the trailer park are giant shrimp boats.

“Let’s say it’s a Christmas field. Pick that up and shake it. That’s what happened,” said Fred Schott.

For the past three days, he and his wife, Joyce, have been traveling to their destroyed mobile home in Fort Myers to clean up after Hurricane Ian hit Florida’s west coast.

For emotional disturbance, “you take it, or you lose it.”

The number of storm-related deaths has risen to at least 101 in the eight days since the cyclone struck southwest Florida, where 92 fatalities have occurred, according to a state coroner’s commission report. In addition, five deaths have been reported in North Carolina, three in Cuba and one in Virginia.

Ian is the second deadliest hurricane to hit the continental United States this century, behind only Hurricane Katrina, which killed nearly 1,800 people in 2005. The deadliest hurricane to hit American shores was the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which caused nearly 8,000 deaths.

Just offshore, residents of Florida’s devastated barrier islands are also returning to assess damage to their homes and businesses, though access is limited in some areas. Pamela Brislin came by boat to see what she could salvage.

Brislin stayed home during the storm, but what happened afterward haunts her. When she went to see her neighbor, she found him crying. Her husband had passed away and his body lay on the garden table until help arrived. The flames at another neighbor’s house were so large that she forced Breslin to do what the storm could not: flee with her husband and the neighbor’s dog.

A Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 150 mph (240 km/h), Ian dumped torrential rains and caused widespread flooding and damage. The deluge turned the roads into rivers. At some points the canals overflowed neighborhoods by more than 12 feet (3.6 m), tossing boats over yards and driveways. Beaches disappeared and tidal waves swept the coast inland.

Officials estimate that the storm caused billions of dollars in damage.

The road leading to Sanibel Island may not be navigable by the end of the month. Local authorities ordered a full curfew after the storm passed to allow search and rescue teams to do their work. This meant that residents who had evacuated the island were technically barred from returning.

But the town of about 7,000 began allowing residents to return between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Wednesday. During a Facebook Live broadcast, City Manager Dana Souza told the public that he wished the municipality had the resources to provide transportation, but for now, residents would have to make their own travel arrangements by private boat.

Pine Island is closer to the mainland than Sanibel, and temporary repairs to its causeway were completed Wednesday.

But the island was also badly affected by the storm.

Cindy Bickford’s house was still standing. Most of the damage was caused by the flood, which left a thick layer of soil on its floor. He expects that he will be able to save a good portion.

“We’ll take the house apart so we can live in it,” said Bickford, who was wearing a T-shirt that read: “Relax. Cool down. Renew yourself”.

“We’re not concerned with our own things, but with the community. Pine Island is very close,” said Bickford, who visited their home for the first time on Thursday.

During a press conference from the city of Nokomis in Sarasota County, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis praised efforts to restore running water and electrical service to the storm-ravaged area. About 185,000 customers were still without power. More than 2.6 million were without service across the state at any given time due to the meteor.

DeSantis said rescuers have carried out about 2,500 missions, particularly in the barrier islands off the state’s east coast as well as inland areas that have experienced severe flooding. More than 90,000 structures have been inspected in search of survivors, he said.

He said residents of areas devastated by the storm have shown great strength in recent weeks.

President Joe Biden toured some of the affected areas on Wednesday, flying over the area in a helicopter and then walking with DeSantis. The Democratic president and Republican governor vowed to put aside their political rivalry to help rebuild homes, businesses and lives. During a meeting with local officials, Biden stressed that the work could take years.

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Calvan reported from Pine Island, Florida. Associated Press writers Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee and Ian Mader in Miami contributed to this report.

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This dispatch has been updated to correct the death toll in Florida to 92, not 98.

Nation World News Desk
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