Live Updates: Hurricane Ian wallops Florida, heads north

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Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A man uses his hand to measure how high water is reaching on the pickup, as the car navigates a flooded street after the passage of Hurricane Ian, in Fort Myers, Fla., Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The Latest on Hurricane Ian:

SANIBEL, Fla. — The U.S. death toll from Hurricane Ian’s passage has risen to four overall after an official said late Thursday that two people were confirmed dead on a hard-hit barrier island on Florida’s western coast.

Dana Souza, city manager of Sanibel, said the deaths were confirmed by fire officials but offered no other specifics. A local medical examiner’s office said it could not comment and any details on deaths would have to come from the sheriff’s office.

In addition to the two Sanibel residents, a 38-year old man from Lake County died Wednesday in a motor vehicle accident after his vehicle hydroplaned, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Medical examiners determined that his death was storm-related.

A 72-year old man from Deltona also was confirmed dead on Thursday. Officials with the Volusia County sheriff’s office said the man went outside to drain his pool and fell into a canal. He was later found dead.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS:

— Ian regains hurricane strength as it heads to South Carolina

— Many trapped in Florida as Ian heads toward South Carolina

Florida hospitals evacuate hundreds of patients

— Search on for migrants after boat sinks off Florida Keys

Cuba begins to turn on lights

— Find more AP coverage here: https://apnews.com/hub/hurricanes

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

NORTH PORT, Fla. — Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, other states and counties were racing against the clock as the sun was about to set Thursday in North Port, to help families stranded in their own homes surrounded by streets that had turned into canals.

The city was one of many in Florida where rescues were underway as Hurricane Ian continued churning northward toward Georgia and the Carolinas.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday evening there had been 700 confirmed rescues across the state in the wake of the storm. “Some of the damage was almost indescribable,” he said.

Earlier in the day, DeSantis described an ongoing effort to airlift people stranded on Sanibel Island, after the storm destroyed the only bridge to the barrier island outside Fort Myers. He said the state would also send additional boats to the area for rescue operations.

“Sanibel is destruction,” he said, adding “it got hit with really biblical storm surge, and it washed away roads it washed away structures that were not new and able to withstand that.“

DeSantis said that as of 6 p.m. Thursday, more than 2.6 million people remained without power, including southwest Florida where Ian made landfall.

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FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. — The Flagler Beach pier on the east coast of Florida has sustained significant damage as Hurricane Ian whipped up waves that broke off a large portion of the wooden structure. Locals captured video and photos of the destruction Thursday afternoon as waters rose and crashed onto the pier, leaving debris on the shoreline.

Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly told News4JAX Thursday that he didn’t believe the pier — which was damaged by Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020, as well as Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — would survive the storm’s impact.

Authorities advised residents to avoid the pier over safety concerns.

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ENGLEWOOD, Fla. — Christine Bomlitz, of Las Vegas, had been anxious to reach her mother, Shirley Affolter, an 84-year-old resident of a retirement community just north of where Hurricane Ian made landfall.

She had no way to contact her mother, who had lost her cellphone before the storm. Then her landline went down. Affolter was supposed to have left with other residents as part of an evacuation plan but was never picked up. So she hunkered down. It was too late for anyone to get her.

Bomlitz grew distraught as the hours passed and as Ian’s ferocity grew. Then morning came, but still no word. Frantic, she posted a plea for help on social media.

By Thursday afternoon, a Good Samaritan had waded into the chest-high flood waters of her mother’s neighborhood to do a welfare check.

“I’m thankful for this stranger,” she said, “a total stranger. People are amazing.”

Bomlitz said she and others were trying to arrange for a boat rescue.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Officials are warning people in South Carolina that Hurricane Ian will be a problem for much of the state on Friday.

The storm is forecast to make landfall midday Friday as a Category 1 hurricane. But the storm is so broad that gusty winds, heavy rain and storm surge will arrive hours before.

Along the coast, 4 to 7 feet of storm surge is expected, rivaling problems created by hurricanes over the past decade. If Ian comes ashore as a hurricane, it would be the first hurricane to strike the state since Matthew in 2016.

National Guard troops are being positioned to help with the aftermath, including any water rescues and highway crews will be ready to clear roads.

Thursday afternoon, a steady stream of vehicles were heading out of Charleston on Interstate 26 with just a few heading into the city.

Gov. Henry McMaster issued no evacuations, but he said that doesn’t mean the storm isn’t dangerous.

“We know we can handle this if we use our heads and follow the rules,” McMaster said.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Lee Health announced Thursday that it was evacuating all of its facilities in Lee County, where Hurricane Ian first made landfall in Florida.

President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci said in a video posted online that the health care system’s structures and facilities were in good shape, but infrastructure was challenged in the way of water and power. Generators were being used at some facilities, but three of the system’s four hospitals were without water, Antonucci said.

“We cannot run a health system and a hospital without running water. It’s critical to what we do,” Antonucci said. “Not only from the perspective of patient care but also for fire protection.”

Lee Health is working with the Agency for Health Care Administration in Florida, as well as state and local emergency operations management agencies, to arrange for the evacuation of patients to other hospitals outside of Lee County, officials said.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to prepare for lots of rain, high winds and potential power outages when the remnants of Hurricane Ian cross the state soon after the storm likely reaches landfall again in South Carolina.

Visiting the state’s emergency operations center, the governor said at a Thursday afternoon news conference that up to 7 inches (17.8 centimeters) of rain could fall in some areas, with the potential for mountain landslides and tornadoes statewide.

“For North Carolinians, I want to be clear: This storm can still be dangerous and even deadly,” Cooper said.

State Emergency Management Director Will Ray said widespread power losses and evacuations weren’t anticipated at this time. Still, he urged people to keep an eye for changes to the storm’s forecast track, which could bring more troubles Friday to central and coastal counties than currently projected.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Other states are sending help to Florida after Hurricane Ian. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday that he’s calling up 135 National Guard members to send to Florida. Forty military and support vehicles will also be sent, he said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has approved sending 245 National Guard members to Florida. The state is also fulfilling requests for a family shelter task force and a hazmat team. “Louisiana knows all too well the chaos and destruction a hurricane as strong as Ian can bring, and we will do everything we can to help our neighbors in Florida and other states impacted by this storm,” Edwards said in a news release.

Utility trucks from Texas made their way early Thursday along Interstate 75 toward the southwest Florida areas ravaged hardest by the storm.