Rescuers evacuated stunned survivors on a major barrier island cut off by Hurricane Ian, and the Florida death toll soared as hundreds of thousands of people died days after the monster storm raged from the state’s southwest coast to the Carolinas. smolder without electricity.
Florida was hardest hit by the Category 4 hurricane, one of the strongest to make landfall in the United States, with nearly four dozen reported deaths. Flooded roads and washed-out bridges to offshore islands left many isolated amid limited cell phone service and a lack of basic amenities like water, electricity and internet.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday that multibillionaire businessman Elon Musk is providing about 120 Starlink satellites to “bridge some of the communications problems.” Starlink, a satellite-based internet system developed by Musk’s SpaceX, will provide high-speed connectivity.
Florida utilities worked to restore power. As of Saturday night, nearly 1 million homes and businesses were still without power, compared to a peak of 2.67 million.
At least 54 people have been confirmed dead: 47 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba.
More than 1,000 people were rescued from flooded areas along Florida’s southwest coast alone, Daniel Hokanson, a four-star general and chief of the National Guard, told The Associated Press as he flew to Florida.
In Washington, the White House announced that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden would travel to Florida on Wednesday. However, a brief statement gave no details of the planned state visit.
The bridge to Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, was destroyed by the storm, making it accessible only by boat or plane. The volunteer group Medic Corps, which responds to natural disasters worldwide with pilots, paramedics and doctors, went door to door asking residents if they wanted to be evacuated.
Some flew out in helicopters, and people described the horror of being trapped in their homes as the waters continued to rise.
“The water just kept pounding on the house and we watched, boats, houses — we watched everything fly by,” said Joe Conforti, fighting back tears. He said that if his wife hadn’t suggested standing on a table to avoid the rising water, he wouldn’t have been able to: “I started to lose sensitivity because when the water is in front of your door and it’s splashing at the door and you see how fast it moves, there’s no way you’ll survive that.
River flooding at times presented a major challenge to rescue and supply efforts. The Myakka River washed over a section of Interstate 75, forcing it to be temporarily closed. Water levels are not expected to drop significantly for days, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said.
At the Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers, Florida, the storm surge drove several boats and a dock ashore.
Elsewhere, Pawleys Island in South Carolina, a beach community about 75 miles (115 kilometers) from Charleston, was also badly hit. Power remained out on at least half of the island on Saturday.
Eddie Wilder, who has been coming to Pawleys Island for more than six decades, said it was “crazy” to see waves up to 7.6 meters high wash away a prominent pier near his home.
“We watched it hit the pier and watched the pier go away,” he said. “We watched it crumble and watched it float by with an American flag.”
The storm downed trees and power lines in North Carolina. Two of the four deaths in the state were from storm-related vehicle accidents, and the others involved a man who drowned when his truck crashed into a swamp and another who was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in a garage.
In Cuba, crews restored power to additional neighborhoods across Havana on Saturday after a second day of protests over ongoing power outages in the capital, including some of the largest demonstrations since widespread anti-government rallies in July 2021.
At least one of Friday night’s protests in the western coastal district of Playa swelled to several hundred people chanting “turn on the lights” and slogans denigrating President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
At one point, the group began chanting for freedom, or “Libertad” in Spanish, as protesters marched through a dark, densely populated neighborhood that has been without power since Hurricane Ian struck on Tuesday.
Hurricane Ian knocked out power for the entire country of 11 million people as it plowed through western Cuba earlier this week. Early Saturday, officials said more than 82% of customers in Havana, a city of more than 2 million people, had power restored, but those still groping in the dark had grown increasingly concerned.