stone. St. Petersburg, FL – Rescuers waded boats through flooded streets Thursday to save thousands of Floridians trapped in flooded homes and buildings destroyed by Hurricane Ian, which moved across the Atlantic and Rush to South Carolina.
Click here to see the latest forecasts for real-time radar and Ian’s path.
Hours after Ian weakened to a tropical storm as it crossed the Florida peninsula, it regained hurricane strength over the Atlantic Ocean Thursday night. The National Hurricane Center predicted it would hit South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane on Friday.
The devastation in Florida came into focus a day after Ian hit the U.S. with a horrific Category 4 hurricane, one of the strongest storms to hit the U.S. on record, which flooded homes on both coasts of the state, It cut off the only road to barrier islands, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and cut power to 2.67 million Florida homes and businesses — nearly a quarter of utility customers.
WATCH: Joe Torres reports on Hurricane Ian’s path to destruction
At least nine people were killed in Florida after the hurricane hit the island on Tuesday, and three others were reported in Cuba.
In the Fort Myers area, homes were torn from their slabs and piled up among the debris. Businesses near the beach were completely flattened, leaving twisted debris. Broken jetties floated at odd angles next to damaged boats, and fires smoldered on lots that once housed houses.
“I don’t know how anyone could have survived there,” said William Goodison at the wreckage of the Fort Myers Beach Mobile Home Park, where he lived for 11 years. Goodison weathered the storm at his inland son’s home.
PHOTOS: Haunting aerial images show aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Sanibel Island in Fort Myers
The hurricane ripped through the park with about 60 homes, many of which were destroyed or damaged beyond repair, including a single-width home in Goodison. In waist-deep water, Goodison and his son pushed two trash cans with what he could salvage — a portable air conditioner, some tools and a baseball bat.
Broken trees, tugboats and other debris littered the road to Fort Myers. Cars were abandoned on the road, stalled when the storm surge overwhelmed their engines.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said there have been at least 700 rescues so far, mostly air rescues involving the U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard and city search and rescue teams.
After leaving Florida as a tropical storm Thursday and entering the Atlantic Ocean north of Cape Canaveral, Ian turned into a hurricane again with 75 mph (120 kph) winds.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the South Carolina coast, extending to Cape Fear on the southeastern coast of North Carolina. Tropical storm strong winds are about 415 miles (665 kilometers) from its center, and Ian is expected to push a 5-foot (1.5-meter) storm surge along the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas. Up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain threatened flooding from South Carolina to Virginia.
The National Guard is being deployed in South Carolina to help with the aftermath, including any water rescues. A steady stream of vehicles left the 350-year-old city of Charleston on Thursday afternoon.
Sheriffs in southwest Florida said 911 centers were inundated with thousands of stranded callers, some with life-threatening emergencies. DeSantis said the U.S. Coast Guard began rescue efforts on barrier islands near the site of Ian’s attack in the hours before dawn. More than 800 federal city search and rescue personnel are also in the area.
In the Orlando area, Orange County firefighters used boats to treat people in flooded communities. Patients from nursing homes were carried on stretchers onto flooded buses.
In Fort Myers, Valerie Bartley’s family spent desperate hours leaning their dining table against the patio door, fearing the storm “is tearing our house apart.”
“I was terrified,” Bartley said. “What we heard was shingles and debris from everything nearby hitting our house.”
TOMORROW: Rescuers search Florida flood-hit areas amid massive power outage
Bartley said the storm ripped through the courtyard screen and snapped a palm tree in the yard, but the roof was intact and her family was unharmed.
There were long lines at gas stations in Fort Myers, and a Home Depot hardware store opened, letting in just a few customers at a time.
Frank Pino was at the back of the line with about 100 people ahead of him.
“I want them to leave something,” Pinault said, “because I need almost everything.”
A 72-year-old Deltona man died after he fell into a canal while using a hose to empty a swimming pool in heavy rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said. A 38-year-old man from Lake County died in an accident Wednesday after his vehicle water skied, according to authorities.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said his office was busy responding to thousands of 911 calls in the Fort Myers area, but many roads and bridges were impassable.
Emergency workers sawed down fallen trees to help trapped people. Many people in the hardest-hit areas were unable to seek help due to power and cellular outages.
A chunk of the Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island, home to 6,300 people.
No deaths or injuries have been confirmed in surrounding counties, and the barrier island’s overpass shows “the integrity of the home is far better than we expected,” said Patrick Fuller, the county’s emergency management director.
Just south of Sanibel Island, Naples’ historic seaside pier was devastated, with its piles torn apart. “Right now, there are no docks,” Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor said.
In Port Charlotte, a hospital’s emergency room was flooded, and strong winds ripped off part of the roof and poured water into the intensive care unit. The sickest patients — some requiring ventilators — crowded the two middle floors as crews prepared for the arrival of storm victims. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital.
A chunk of the Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island, home to 6,300 people. It’s not known how many people followed the evacuation order, but Charlotte County Emergency Management Director Patrick Fuller expressed cautious optimism.
TOMORROW: Chunk of Sanibel Causeway falls into sea during Ian, cutting off 6.3K inhabited Florida Island
Ian hits Florida with 150 mph (241 km/h) winds, making it the fifth-strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. on record
While scientists generally avoid blaming specific storms on climate change without a detailed analysis, Ian’s water damage matches scientists’ predictions for a warmer world: stronger, wetter hurricanes, though not necessarily more.
“We’re expecting to see very, very heavy rain because of climate change,” said Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We’re going to see more storms like Ian. “
Associated Press contributors include Terry Spencer and Tim Reynolds in Fort Myers; Cody Jackson in Tampa, Fla.; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Fla.; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Bobby Caina Calvan in New York.
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