Hurricane Ian barrelled towards South Carolina on Friday after leaving a path of devastation across Florida, where officials raced to assess damage and reported a death toll that could make the storm the deadliest in the state’s history.
At least 21 people have been reported dead following the hurricane in Florida, according to the state emergency management director.
Ian made landfall on Wednesday as a category 4 hurricane, knocking down homes and store fronts along the south-west coast with powerful winds and surging waters before travelling across the Florida peninsula to enter the Atlantic Ocean.
After weakening into a tropical storm, Ian regained hurricane strength. The National Hurricane Center warned of “life-threatening storm surge” when it made landfall again in the Carolinas, while forecasting severe river floods in central Florida that last until next week.
The storm’s toll is already higher than the number of direct deaths attributed to Hurricane Andrew, previously Florida’s most lethal cyclone which resulted in 15 people dying.
On Friday morning, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis said 1.9mn customers were still without electricity and half a dozen healthcare facilities had been evacuated because they lacked power and running water.
Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility, said on Friday that it had restored power for more than half of those affected, but warned of prolonged outages in the south-west as recovery crews were “hampered by extensive flooding, storm surge, downed trees and other debris in the area and roadways”. Some properties were so damaged they were “unable to safely accept power,” the company said.
The hurricane tore through multiple regions of the state, inflicting particular damage around Fort Myers, which was beset by severe flooding, as well as on inland areas such as Orlando. Ian also severed the only bridge connecting Sanibel Island to the Florida mainland, not far from Fort Myers.
Cities along the south-western coast of Florida have been some of the fastest growing in the nation, with tens of thousands moving to the area over the past year.
More than 10,000 people moved into the region of Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Naples between 2019 and 2021, the biggest domestic influx into a local metro region in the entire country, according to the US Census. The area that includes Orlando received the second-largest migration.
Ian was expected to touch down in South Carolina after noon local time on Friday, with 85mph winds and as much as a foot of rainfall. Already, thousands of customers in both South Carolina and North Carolina are reporting power outages.
The National Weather Service has implemented a flash flood warning in the Charleston area, while local police urged residents to limit their movements to only “essential travel”.