Rescuers searched for survivors among the ruins of Florida homes flooded by Hurricane Ian as authorities in South Carolina began assessing damage from its strike there as the remnants of one of the hurricanes the most powerful and costly to ever strike the United States continued to push north.
The powerful storm terrorized millions of people for most of the week, battering western Cuba before moving across Florida from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where it gathered enough strength for a final assault on South Carolina. Now weakened by a post-tropical cyclone, Ian had to cross North Carolina, then Virginia and New York.
At least 31 people have been confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida, mostly from drowning but others from the storm’s tragic aftermath. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off due to a power outage, authorities said.
Chris Schnapp was at the Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers on Saturday, waiting to see if his 83-year-old mother-in-law had been evacuated from Sanibel Island. A pontoon boat had just arrived with a load of passengers from the island – with suitcases and animals in tow – but Schnapp’s mother-in-law was not among them.
“She stayed on the island. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law own two businesses there. They evacuated. She didn’t want to go, thinking it wasn’t going to be bad,” Schnapp said. But then she learned on Friday evening that her mother-in-law would arrive at the marina: “Now we don’t know if she is still on the island or got on a bus”, and was taken to a shelter, a said Schnapp.
Pawleys Island, South Carolina, a seaside community about 117 kilometers off the coast of Charleston, was among the places hardest hit by Ian, and the power remained out on at least half of the island. Saturday.
Eddie Wilder, who has been coming to Pawleys Island for more than six decades, said Friday’s storm was “incredible to watch”. He said waves up to 7.6 meters high swept away the pier – an iconic landmark – just two doors down from his home.
“We watched it hit the pier and saw the pier disappear,” said Wilder, whose home sits about 30 feet above the ocean and stayed dry inside. “We saw it go down and saw it float with an American flag still waving.”
Pawleys Pier was one of at least four along the South Carolina coast to be destroyed by Ian’s winds and rain. Portions of the pier, including pylons covered in barnacles, littered the beach. The intra-coastal waterway was littered with the remains of several boathouses torn and knocked off their stilts in the storm.
Traffic was halted to the southernmost point of Pawleys Island, where crews were working to clear roads of sand and other debris that authorities say was piled at least a foot high . The sand will then be redistributed to rebuild the dunes along the seafront, as happened after a similar washout in 2019.
Many raised beach houses still had feet of sand underneath, with dunes completely covered and nearly flattened.
John Joseph, whose father built the family’s beige beach house in 1962, said on Saturday he was delighted to return from Georgetown – which was directly affected – to find his Pawleys Island home fully intact.
“Thank goodness those walls are still there, and we feel very lucky that this is the worst thing,” he said of the sand swept under his house. “What happened in Florida – my God, God bless us. If we had a Category 4, I wouldn’t be here.
In North Carolina, the storm appears to have mostly downed trees and power lines, leaving more than 280,000 people across the state without power late Saturday morning, according to state officials.
At least one storm-related death has been reported in Johnston County, outside of Raleigh. A woman found her husband dead Saturday morning after he went to check on a generator in their garage overnight, said sheriff’s office Capt. Jeff Caldwell.
Winds from the storm were much weaker on Friday than when Ian landed on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week. Authorities and volunteers on site were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of what they had just experienced.
Anthony Rivera, 25, said he had to climb out the window of his first-floor Fort Myers apartment during the storm to carry his grandmother and girlfriend to the second floor. As they rushed to escape the rising waters, the storm surge swept away a boat right next to his apartment.
“It’s the scariest thing in the world because I can’t stop any boat,” he said. “I am not Superman.”
On Friday, other distraught residents waded through knee-deep water, salvaging what they could from their flooded homes and loading them onto rafts and canoes.
“I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don’t know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said after walking through her largely destroyed Fort Myers apartment, the mud in her kitchen clinging to her purple sandals. .
On Saturday, a long line of people waited outside an O’Reilly auto parts store in Port Charlotte, where a sign read, “We have generators now.” Hundreds of cars lined up outside a gas station in Wawa, and some people walked, carrying cans of gas to their nearby cars.