Hurricane Ian Leaves Trapped Florida Residents Pleading for Rescue as ‘Hundreds’ Feared Dead

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The full scale of the disaster unleashed by Hurricane Ian on Florida began to emerge Thursday with hundreds feared dead after catastrophic flooding trapped residents in their homes, destroyed critical infrastructure, and left over 2 million people without power.

The fifth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the US when measured by wind speed, Ian tore into the Southwest Florida coast with violent gales, an epic storm surge, and as much as a foot of rain being dropped over some areas.

‘Catastrophic’ Ian Makes Landfall in Florida as One of the Most Powerful Hurricanes Ever

At first light on Thursday morning, emergency crews were beginning to reckon with the monumental devastation left in Ian’s wake, as homes were ripped from their foundations and public buildings damaged.

“I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told Good Morning America Thursday. “There are thousands of people that are waiting to be rescued.”

A lower-level emergency room at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte was flooded as brutal winds tore part of the roof from the building’s intensive care unit, the Associated Press reports. Staff had to evacuate patients on ventilators to other floors as water washed into the ICU.

Other emergency services reported heartbreaking difficulties during the peak of the storm. In Fort Myers, law enforcement officials took calls from residents trapped in their flooded houses, or from concerned relatives who hadn’t heard from their loved ones, but conditions prevented rescue efforts being launched.

“We are aware of a number of calls from people stranded due to high water,” Lee County Public Safety Director Ben Abes said late Wednesday, the News-Press reports. “However, we are faced with conditions that make it impossible to respond right now.”

Some even posted truly desperate pleas for help on social media, along with terrifying descriptions of their homes filling up with flood water. Rescue attempts will be hindered on Thursday by roads being completely submerged or blocked with downed trees and power lines. A large section of the causeway leading to Sanibel has been completely washed away by the hurricane, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

In Naples, extreme flooding has made over half of the streets “not passable due to high water,” Collier County officials Thursday announced.

Ian made landfall at 3:10 pm on Wednesday near Cayo Costa—an island off Fort Myers—as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds. Early Thursday, the National Hurricane Center downgraded Ian to a tropical storm, warning that danger of “life-threatening storm surge” will remain through Friday along the northeast coast of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Flooding is expected in the three states until the end of next week.

No deaths associated with Ian were reported by late Wednesday, but officials already fear the worst.

“Our community has been, in some respects, decimated,” Lee County Manager Roger DesJarlais said late Wednesday, according to WGCU. He added that while no deaths were yet confirmed, it was “reasonable to think” that “there could be some fatalities.”

A boat carrying Cuban migrants sank in stormy conditions east of Key West. The US Coast Guard searched for 23 people, three of whom were found in the waters about 2 miles off the Florida Keys. Another four Cubans swam to Stock Island, the US Border Patrol announced. Search and rescue efforts continued for possibly another 20 people unaccounted for.

Just as Cuba’s power was wiped out when Ian hit the island, Florida was similarly blighted by blackouts during the storm. Over 2.5 million customers were plunged into darkness, according to tracking site PowerOutage.us.

In Charlotte County, a curfew between 9 pm and 6 am was announced by Sheriff Bull Prummell for “life-saving purposes.” “I am enacting this curfew as a means of protecting the people and property of Charlotte County,” Prummell said.

Lee County, which similarly enforced a curfew, also reportedly saw looting.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked President Biden to approve a major disaster relief declaration to provide aid to the state. “This storm is doing a number on the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. Speaking during a Fox News appearance Wednesday night, DeSantis said the storm would bring “one of the biggest flood events we’ve ever had. What remains to be seen is how much damage the wind did. Obviously it’s very significant.”

Airports have canceled hundreds of flights on Thursday, with the Southwest Florida International Airport and Orlando International Airport pulling all of its scheduled operations.

The storm is expected to barrel toward the Atlantic seaboard on Thursday, with Georgia and possibly the Carolinas in its path.

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