Frustration and desperation mount as Ian’s effects linger
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Days after the skies cleared and the winds died down in Florida, Hurricane Ian’s effects persisted Monday, as people faced another week without power and others were being rescued from homes inundated with lingering floodwaters.
Ten additional deaths were blamed on the storm in Florida as frustration and desperation mounted in the path the storm cut through state. And the hurricane’s remnants, now a nor’easter, weren’t done with the U.S.
The mid-Atlantic and Northeast coasts were getting flooding rains. The storm’s onshore winds piled even more water into an already inundated Chesapeake Bay.
Norfolk and Virginia Beach declared states of emergency, although a shift in wind direction prevented potentially catastrophic levels Monday, said Cody Poche, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wakefield, Virginia.
Coastal flooding temporarily shut down the only highway to part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and flooding was possible all the way to Long Island, the National Weather Service said.
At least 78 people have been confirmed dead: 71 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba since Ian made landfall on the Caribbean island on Sept. 27 and in Florida a day later.
Search and rescue efforts were still ongoing Monday in Florida. More than 1,600 people have been rescued statewide, according to Florida’s emergency management agency.
Washed-out bridges to barrier islands, flooded roadways, spotty cellphone service and a lack of water, electricity or the internet left hundreds of thousands isolated. The situation in many areas wasn’t expected to improve for several days because waterways were overflowing, leaving the rain that fell with nowhere to go.
In DeSoto County, northeast of Fort Myers, the Peace River and tributaries reached record high levels and boats were the only way to get supplies to many of the county’s 37,000 residents.
The county was prepared for strong winds after being hit by Hurricane Charley in 2004, but it was not prepared for so much rainfall, which amounted to a year’s worth of precipitation in two days, DeSoto County Commissioner J.C. Deriso said.
“This flood has been pretty catastrophic,” said Deriso, adding that officials hope to open one of the area’s main highways by Tuesday.
Ian washed away bridges and roads to several barrier islands. About 130 Florida Department of Transportation trucks started work on building a temporary bridge to Pine Island and by the end of the week should be finished on a structure drivers can carefully traverse at slow speeds, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference Monday afternoon.
The governor said a similar temporary bridge is planned for nearby Sanibel, but it will take a little more time.
“They were talking about running ferries and stuff,” DeSantis said. “And honestly, you may be able to do that, but I think this is an easier thing, and I think people need their vehicles anyways.”
The first two days without power at his Punta Gorda home weren’t bad because he, his wife and 4-year-old daughter like to camp, Joe Gunn said.
But then they ran out of gas, Gunn said as he waited for an hour for $20 worth of premium fuel from a Bonita Springs station, one of the few open in the area. The family then drove to get supplies and a hot meal.
Gunn was preparing for another stressful night, worried someone might try to steal his supplies. “I am constantly listening to the generator. It’s pitch black outside of the house,” he said.
Across southwest Florida, residents whose homes were overrun by the sea or floods threw waterlogged mattresses, couches and other belongings into the street and tore out floors and cut into walls, hoping to dry the shells of their houses before mold set in.
“Everything that got water is starting to mold. We’re cutting all the drywall out, 2 feet up, trying to get things dried out to save the house and to protect it from more damage,” said Jeff Rioux, thankful for several days of nice weather and generators to run fans.
Neighbors helped each other where they could.
“I lost everything,” said Alice Pujols, crying as she picked through the heaps of castaway clothes at a stranger’s home. “I’m just looking for what I can salvage.”
About 520,000 homes and businesses in Florida were still without electricity Monday evening, down from a peak of 2.6 million. But that is still nearly the same amount of customers in all of Rhode Island.
Eric Silagy, Chairman and CEO of Florida Power & Light, said he understands the frustrations and emphasized that the utility’s crews are working to get power restored as soon as possible. The utility provider — the largest in the state — expects to have power restored to 95% of the service areas affected by Hurricane Ian by the end of the day Friday, he said.
“If all goes well, we will be able to have all of our customers — the over 2 million that were impacted by this monster storm — essentially restored,” Silagy said.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden plan to visit Florida on Wednesday. The president was in Puerto Rico on Monday, promising to “rebuild it all” after Hurricane Fiona knocked out all power to the island two weeks ago.
In Virginia, the U.S. Navy postponed the first-ever deployment of the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, the nation’s most advanced aircraft carrier, according to a statement from the Navy’s 2nd Fleet. The carrier and other U.S. ships were scheduled to leave Norfolk on Monday for training exercises in the Atlantic Ocean with vessels from other NATO Countries.
After moving across Florida, Ian made another landfall in the U.S. in South Carolina as a much weaker hurricane. Officials said Monday that crews were finishing removing sand from coastal roads and nearly all power had been restored.
Santana reported from Bonita Springs. Associated Press reporters Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee; Frieda Frisaro and David Fischer in Miami; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina contributed to this report.
For more AP coverage of Hurricane Ian: apnews.com/hub/hurricanes
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