Ron DeSantis has described the tsunami-like flooding across Florida as a ‘once in a 500-year’ event, leaving 2.7million without power as Hurricane Ian continues to barrel its way northwards through Orlando.
Hundreds of people are feared dead, as 50 National Guard helicopters are starting the search and rescue for thousands who are stranded or missing in the aftermath of the catastrophic water damage and 155mph winds.
But rescuers this morning admitted they are only ‘scratching the surface’ and the actual number of victims could soar even higher.
Thousands are also trapped on their homes and some were forced on to their roofs to escape rising floodwater that swallowed two-story homes.
Horrifying footage shows flames and black smoke coiling into the sky in Fort Myers as homes were suddenly being engulfed by the blaze.
Meanwhile Joe Biden declared it a ‘major disaster’ and freed up funds to help those without power and hundreds of thousands whose homes have been leveled.
The President also confirmed he was in ‘close coordination’ with the Florida governor after a phone call early on Thursday morning.
Ian blasted ashore with catastrophic force on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm, but has since been downgraded to a tropical storm by the National Hurricane Center in an update early on Thursday.
But it could near hurricane strength again when it approaches the coast of South Carolina on Friday – which is set to be its second US landfall.
Experts are expecting the damages to cost up to $260billion, though the clean-up efforts are currently unable to get underway as swathes of Florida remain underwater.
The extreme damage can be seen in aerial photographs, with homes swept towards the water in Fort Myers as trees and buildings lay broken
Homes in Fort Myers have been decimated by the storm, with several properties being washed away and crashing into other buildings
Residents in Fort Myers were met with scenes of devastation when they were able to get to the lower floors of their properties, which were left in chaos after floodwater swept through
Properties in Fort Myers are on fire as other residents were faced with a boat outside their home in the street which had been pushed out of the marina by the hurricane
Debris has gathered in a lake near damaged properties in Fort Myers, Florida, being pushed to one side by the 155mph storm winds
Aerial shots show the level of devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, as mobile homes and other less secure structures can be seen strewn across the floodwater
Good Samaritans are seen in Orange County trying to keep children from wading through the flash floodwater as Hurricane Ian continues to cross the state
A section of the Sanibel Causeway was knocked out by Hurricane Ian, leaving the population of 6,300 residents stranded in the aftermath of the killer storm as it is the only way on or off the island
Shawn Hulbert, 38, stands outside his damaged home in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Punta Gorda, Florida
Horrifying pictures show the level of devastation in Fort Myers with boats usually in the marina being forced onto the shore amid broken palm trees and damaged infrastructures
Search and rescue teams started helping families flee the waterlogged areas of Kissimmee, Florida
PUNTA GORDA: A child carries a damaged plant from their home as an adult watches on, taking in the chaos caused by the hurricane
Orlando authorities transported a person out of the Avante nursing home amid heavy flooding in central Florida
Though it is not clear exactly what caused the fires to break out, it could have been sparked by damaged power cables, lightning or generators being destroyed by the storm
Homes in Fort Myers were on fire on Thursday morning as the area continues to be devastated in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian
People look on at destroyed boats after Hurricane Ian swept through at the Centennial Park in Fort Myers
Dozens of damaged boats can be seen strewn across downtown Fort Myers in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, with many piled up on top of each other
Brave rescuers managed to give a stranded resident in Orlando a ride while also clutching a bag and wading through the water
This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite handout image shows Hurricane Ian, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm, making it’s way over the Atlantic
Though it is not clear exactly what caused the fires to break out, it could have been sparked by damaged power cables, lightning or generators being destroyed by the storm.
Sanibel Island has been cut off from the mainland after the Causeway Bridge collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico due to the force of the tempest.
Ian is currently around 35 miles southwest of Cape Canaveral, with maximum speeds of 65mph, and is moving northeast at around 8mph.
DeSantis said authorities have found two people who died, likely as a result from the storm, but their causes of death are still unconfirmed.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, whose area covers Fort Myers, one of the worst affected areas by the monster storm, confirmed that he was expecting hundreds of fatalities in his jurisdiction alone.
He told GMA: ‘While I don’t have confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds.
‘Thousands of people are waiting to be rescued, I cannot give a true assessment until we are on scene assessing each scene and we can’t access people that is the problem.
‘This will be a life changing event for the men and women who are responding. This is a life-changing event for all of us.’
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood predicted the recovery effort for the tsunami-life waves hitting the state will be like ‘something we’ve not seen in this county ever.’
The Sheriff’s department also confirmed that a man, 72, was found dead in water in a canal behind his home in Deltona near Daytona Beach.
Emergency services in Naples, Florida, carried out a number of high risk rescues for those who were still trapped in their homes on Thursday morning
Residents in Punta Gorda were forced to clear out their own properties with chainsaws as trees were strewn across the area
Wilfred Rosario walks in flood water near an apartment complex to check on relatives in Orlando, Florida
Hundreds of power company trucks ready to restore power as 40,000 linemen ready to get to work across Florida
Residents in Orlando, Florida, were forced to try to flee on foot in waist high water as flash flooding warnings are in place across the county
A McLaren P1, worth around $1.2million, was flooded out of a garage and into the road alongside a Rolls-Royce Phantom, destroying the super car as it was washed away in Naples, Florida
Water levels along the southwestern coast of Florida remained high, with fire engines struggling to make their way through
Orange County Fire Rescue team help people stranded by Hurricane Ian with boats as they try to evacuate residents from their homes
Lilly Indarjit, 16, stands in her damaged home in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Punta Gorda, which was badly flooded
Biden declares major disaster in Florida: President frees up funds for state ravaged by Hurricane Ian
The president’s declaration makes federal funding available to nine counties on the Gulf Coast of the Sunshine State. The funding could include assistance for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to help cover uninsured property, among other programs.
The cost of repairing and reconstructing homes from the storm damage could cost up to $260 billion, according to property experts CoreLogic.
He appeared to be using a hose to drain his pool into the wide canal and fell down an incline that was ‘extremely soft and slippery due to the heavy rain.’
In a press conference on Thursday, DeSantis said that Florida had ‘never seen a flood event of this magnitude’, saying that there has been ‘extensive damage’ to a lot of building.
He added that both Lee and Charlotte County are in ‘difficult situations’ and ‘off the grid’ after being the hardest hit, and recovery efforts there will focus on rebuilding communication and rescuing those in need.
DeSantis confirmed that he had spoken to President Biden, and that he would be seeking further federal support and funding as Ian heads towards Orlando with rising water levels.
In a statement the White House said: ‘The President spoke this morning with Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida to discuss the steps the Biden-Harris Administration is taking to support Florida in response to Hurricane Ian, including the issuance of a Disaster Declaration this morning.
‘The President told the Governor he is sending his FEMA Administrator to Florida tomorrow to check in on response efforts and see where additional support is needed. The President and Governor committed to continued close coordination.’
Lee County Sheriff’s Office have advised people struggling to get through to ‘keep trying’ as no electricity and patchy cellphone coverage meaning many calls for help weren’t getting through.
The slow-moving hurricane is continuing to unleash drenching rains as it creeps inland, trapping scores of people – believed to be thousands – in their flooded homes.
NORTH PORT: Damaged cars with smashed windshields and airbags expanded can be seen on the side of Interstate 75 in North Port
ORLANDO: A truck drives through a flooded highway ramp following Hurricane Ian, in Orlando, Florida, as flash flood warnings are in place
ORLANDO: Storm damage caused the front of a buisness to almost entirely collapse as flood waters are starting to swallow the center of the state
SANIBEL: Family and friends of residents on Sanibel Island are terrified as they have not been able to make contact with those who did not flee the mandatory evacuation zone
FORT MYERS: Police patrols the Centennial Park after Hurricane Ian hit, with floodwater still stagnant in the roads
FORT MYERS: A speedboat was pictured in the middle of a road as the search and rescue effort began early in Fort Myers
‘Severe and life-threatening storm surge inundation of 8 to 10 feet above ground level along with destructive waves is ongoing along the southwest Florida coastline from Englewood to Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbor,’ the National Hurricane Center warned.
Florida’s idyllic southwestern shoreline, dotted with sandy beaches, coastal towns and mobile home parks, was rapidly transformed into a disaster zone inundated by seawater.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott earlier this week sent urban search-and-rescue teams, consisting of 45 people, four boats and two canines, to help with the efforts.
The town of Punta Gorda, north of Fort Myers, was in near-total darkness after the storm wiped out power, save for the few buildings with generators.
Video images of the storm’s fury with floodwater reaching rooftops in the worst-hit communities, sweeping away cars and the ruins of homes as palm trees were bent almost in half.
Fire crews and police officers have been inundated with calls from people trapped in flooded homes, while others posted on social media pleading for themselves or loved ones to be rescued after they chose to ride out the storm at home rather than heed evacuation orders.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said rescue crews have been unable to reach them due to the ferocity of the winds and flooding.
Horrifying footage shows debris-strewn water flooding the ground floor of homes, prompting residents to rush to higher levels.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described the mass flooding from Hurricane Ian as a ‘once in a 500-year’ event, and confirmed that 2.7million are currently without power
PORT CHARLOTTE: Hospital staff at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital were forced to evacuate after floodwater burst through the roof
PUNTA GORDA: The level of devastation is shown in Punta Gorda, close to Fort Myers, with broken trees strewn across the road and floodwater remaining
PUNTA GORDA: Brave officials helped an elderly man to safety in almost chest high water near Fort Myers which was badly hit by the hurricane
PUNTA GORDA: A boat is almost fully submerged on the coast of southwest Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian which has moved towards the center of the street
Brittany Hailer, a journalist in Pittsburgh, contacted rescuers about her mother in North Fort Myers, whose home was swamped by 5 feet of water.
She said: ‘We don’t know when the water’s going to go down. We don’t know how they’re going to leave, their cars are totaled. Her only way out is on a boat.’
Robbie Berg, senior hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, said: ‘It doesn’t matter what the intensity of the storm is. We’re still expecting quite a bit of rainfall.’
Thousands of residents on Sanibel Island have had their only way to flee completely destroyed, as the Causeway fell into the see.
It cut off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people usually live, though it is unclear how many chose to stay on the island despite the mandatory evacuation orders.
The island was battered by 150mph winds and huge tsunami-like waves as Ian made landfall yesterday, with footage showing hotel guests battling to keep the windows on a building.
A time-lapse video shows how quickly the remote coastline island was swallowed by the masses of floodwater, becoming completely submerged in just 30 minutes.
ST PETERSBURG: Rescue and clean up efforts have started in St Petersburg, Florida, which was hit with severe wind and rain causing severe damage
NAPLES: Firefighters in Naples, Florida, are warning residents to say on high ground until they can be rescued
NAPLES: Emergency services in Naples have already begun rescue missions for residents who are trapped in their homes
Firefighters in Naples are urging locals to find the highest point of their home to remain safe, but are warning residents to stay out of their attic’s.
Authorities are also asking everyone to stay off the roads as it is ‘not safe’, telling anyone who remained in the county to wait for the storm to pass.
Collier County Sheriff’s Office, which includes Naples, added: ‘Portable towers are on the way for cell service. Chances are your loved ones do not have ability to contact you.
‘We can tell you as daylight reveals the aftermath, it’s going to be a hard day.’
Thousands of people were understood to be trapped on the roof of their properties yesterday, with recuse attempts expected to get underway today.
Flash flood warnings are in effect for Orange and Brevard counties as rain from Hurricane Ian hits central Florida.
Volusia is also under a flash flood emergency, with river levels rising above 30.6ft, as winds of 95mph are being recorded.
Chief Lauraleigh Avery, emergency manager for Orange County Government’s Office of Emergency Management, said: ‘Wherever they are, they need to stay put.
‘We could have a really rapid amount of rain, a lot of rain coming really fast. We were already expecting 12 to 20 inches of rain. Now we could go up to 30 in some areas.’
SARASOTA: Storm debris litters a street in the wake of Hurricane Ian in Sarasota, Florida
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, whose area covers Fort Myers, which has been one of the worst affected by the monster storm, confirmed that he was expecting hundreds of fatalities in his jurisdiction alone
KEY WEST: Hurricane Ian passed over Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West causing flood damage and prompting evacuations of Navy personnel and families
Up to a foot of rain is forecast for parts of Northeast Florida, coastal Georgia and the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
As much as 6 inches could fall in southern Virginia as the storm moves inland over the Carolinas, and the center said landslides were possible in the southern Appalachian mountains.
The Weather Underground predicted the storm would pass near Daytona Beach and go into the Atlantic before veering back ashore in South Carolina on Friday.
The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia all preemptively declared states of emergency.
No deaths have officialle been reported in the United States from Ian, but a boat carrying Cuban migrants sank Wednesday in stormy weather east of Key West.
The U.S. Coast Guard initiated a search and rescue mission for 23 people and managed to find three survivors about two miles south of the Florida Keys, officials said.
Four other Cubans swam to Stock Island, just east of Key West, the U.S. Border Patrol said. Air crews continued to search for possibly 20 remaining migrants.
The storm previously tore into Cuba, killing two people and bringing down the country’s electrical grid.
CUBA: Tobacco farm owner Maritza Carpio cries next to her husband Ramon Martinez while looking at their destroyed tobacco house after the passage of Hurricane Ian in San Luis, Cuba
CUBA: People play in the breaking waves at the Malecon, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Havana, Cuba on Wednesday
Disney, airports and popular attractions in Florida are CLOSED after of Hurricane Ian
- Disney Orlando theme and water parks
- Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
- Copper Creek Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Typhoon Lagoon
- Winter Summerland Miniature Golf
- Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf
- St Pete International
- Sarasota Bradenton
- Fort Lauderdale (delays and cancelations)
- Universal Orlando
- SeaWorld Orlando
- Kennedy Space Center
- Straz Center
- Florida Aquarium
- The Dali Museum
- Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- Sparkman Wharf
- Yacht StarShip
- Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center
- 11 Waffle House stores
- Publix in 11 counties
- Lightning preseason postponed
- Buccaneers relocated to Miami
The hurricane’s eye made landfall near Cayo Costa, a barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers, with water draining from Tampa Bay as it approached.
More than 2.7 million Florida homes and businesses were left without electricity, with most of the homes and businesses in 12 counties without power.
Streets were turned into rivers, with the storm surge flooding the lower level emergency room of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, while fierce winds tore part of its fourth floor roof from its intensive care units.
Water poured in from above onto the ICU, forcing staff to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients – some of them on ventilators – to other floors.
Sheriff Bull Prummell of Charlotte County, just north of Fort Myers, announced a curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. ‘for life-saving purposes,’ saying violators may face second-degree misdemeanor charges.
‘I am enacting this curfew as a means of protecting the people and property of Charlotte County,’ Prummell said.
Strong gusts and horizontal rains were still lashing Venice, Florida, a city of about 25,000 residents some 32 miles northwest of where Ian first came ashore at the barrier island of Cayo Costa seven hours earlier.
Larger structures remained mostly intact, but small, residential areas off of Highway 41, a major artery through the area, were left in a shambles.
Downed trees and power lines covered roadways to the point that the asphalt was not visible, roofs were ripped off of some homes, and water was pouring into neighborhoods from seemingly all directions.
A large open lot in front of a Winn Dixie grocery store became a lake, with white-capping waters reaching the trunks of some the cars parked there. Power was out in larger swaths of the area, with communications nearly impossible in many spots.
DeSantis said Ian had generated life-threatening storm surges – waves of wind-driven seawater rushing in along the coast – of up to 12 feet in some places. Forecasters also warned of intense thunderstorms and possible tornadoes.
‘This is a storm that we will talk about for many years to come, an historic event,’ said Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service.
By comparison, Hurricane Michael came ashore in Florida’s panhandle in 2018 with steady winds of 155 mph, while Ida last year packed sustained winds of 150 mph when it landed in Louisiana.
Even as Ian lashed the coast before it finally swept ashore, authorities warned residents it was too late for anyone who had yet to evacuate to safely do so. Earlier this week, more than 2.5 million residents had been told to evacuate.
Many mobile home residents took refuge in local schools and other facilities converted to emergency shelters. The area’s numerous assisted-living facilities were mostly evacuated, too.