FORT MYERS, Florida (AP) — The rescue team evacuates the stunned survivors on a large barrier island cut off by Hurricane Ian and Florida’s death toll rising sharply, as hundreds of thousands of people are still scorching without power days after a monster storm raged from the state’s southwest coast to Carolina.
Florida, with nearly four dozen reported dead, was hardest hit by a Category 4 hurricane, one of the most powerful to make landfall in the United States. Flooded highways and collapsed bridges to barrier islands leaving many people isolated, amid limited cell phone service and a lack of basic amenities such as water, electricity and internet.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said on Saturday that multibillionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk provided about 120 Starlink satellites to “help bridge some of the communication problems.” Starlink, a satellite-based internet system created by Musk’s SpaceX, will provide high-speed connectivity.
Florida utilities are working to restore power. As of Saturday night, nearly 1 million homes and businesses were still without electricity, down from a peak of 2.67 million.
At least 54 people are confirmed dead: 47 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba.
More than 1,000 people saved from flooded areas along Florida’s southwest coast alone, Daniel Hokanson, a four-star general and head of the National Guard, told The Associated Press while airing for Florida.
In Washington, the White House announced that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden would travel to Florida on Wednesday. But the brief statement did not release details of a planned visit to the state.
The bridge to Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, was destroyed by a storm, making it accessible only by boat or air. The Medic Corps volunteer group, which responds to natural disasters around the world with pilots, paramedics and doctors, went door to door asking residents if they wanted to be evacuated.
Some flew by helicopter, and people described the horror of being trapped in their homes as the water continued to rise.
“Water kept flooding the house and we watched, the boat, the house – we watched it all go by,” said Joe Conforti, holding back tears. He said if it weren’t for his wife, who advised them to stand on the table to avoid the rising water, he wouldn’t have succeeded: “I was starting to lose my senses, because when the water is at your door and it splashes on the door and you see how fast it goes. it moves, there’s no way you’ll survive it.”
River flooding is a big challenge sometimes to save and supply delivery efforts. The Myakka River swept across a stretch of Interstate 75, forcing a temporary closure of the jammed highway before officials said late Saturday it could reopen.
While the overflowing river has peaked or is nearing its peak, its levels are not expected to drop significantly for days, National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming said.
Elsewhere, South Carolina’s Pawleys Island, a coastal community about 75 miles (115 kilometers) down the coast from Charleston, was also hit hard. Power remained out to at least half 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 as high as 25 feet (7.6 meters) wash over the landmark pier near his home.
“We watched it hit the pier and saw the pier disappear,” he said. “We watched it crumble and saw it hovering with the American flag.”
Wilder’s house, located 30 feet (9 meters) above the shoreline, remains dry inside.
In North Carolina, a hurricane uprooted trees and power lines. Two of the state’s four deaths were from hurricane-related vehicle accidents, and the other involved a man who drowned when his truck fell into a swamp and another died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in a garage.
At Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers, Florida, a storm surge pushed several ships and docks ashore.
Charter captain Ryan Kane said his boat was so badly damaged he couldn’t use it to help save people, and it would now be a while before he could bring clients fishing again.
“There’s a hole in the hull. It needs water in the motor. It needs water on everything,” he said, adding: “You know, the boat is supposed to be in the water, not in the parking lot.