At least 30 dead after Hurricane Ian battered Florida , as rescuers search for survivors

At least thirty have been confirmed dead as rescuers continue to search for survivors in Fort Myers’ flooded homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

The official death toll climbed throughout the day Friday, with authorities warning it would likely rise much higher once crews made a more comprehensive sweep of the damage.

Authorities in South Carolina have also begun assessing damage from its strike there as the remnants of one of the strongest and costliest hurricanes to ever hit the US continued to push north.

The powerful storm also battered western Cuba before travelling across Florida from the Gulf of Mexico. It continued on to the Atlantic Ocean before landing in South Carolina.

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Now weakened to a post-tropical cyclone, Ian was expected to move across central North Carolina on Saturday morning then move into Virginia and New York.

At least 30 people were confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida, mostly from drowning but others from the storm’s tragic after effects. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said.

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Meanwhile, distraught residents waded through knee-high water, salvaging what possessions they could from their flooded homes and loading them onto rafts and canoes.

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“I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don’t know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said on Friday after going through her mostly destroyed Fort Myers apartment.

In South Carolina, Ian’s centre came ashore near Georgetown, a small community along the Winyah Bay about 60 miles (95 kilometres) north of historic Charleston. The storm washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two connected to the popular tourist town of Myrtle Beach.

The storm’s winds were much weaker Friday than during Ian’s landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week. Authorities and volunteers there were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of what they just lived through.

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Anthony Rivera, 25, said he had to climb through the window of his first-floor apartment during the storm to carry his grandmother and girlfriend to the second floor. As they hurried to escape the rising water, the storm surge had washed a boat right up next to his apartment.

“That’s the scariest thing in the world because I can’t stop no boat,” he said. “I’m not Superman.”

Pawleys Island, a beach community about 73 miles (117 kilometres) up South Carolina’s coast from Charleston, was among the places hardest hit by Ian.

TOPSHOT - An aerial picture taken on September 30, 2022 shows destroyed houses in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. - Forecasters expect Hurricane Ian to cause life-threatening storm surges in the Carolinas on Friday after unleashing devastation in Florida, where it left a yet unknown number of dead in its wake. After weakening across Florida, Ian regained its Category 1 status in the Atlantic Ocean and was headed toward the Carolinas, the US National Hurricane Center said Friday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)
After weakening across Florida, Ian regained its Category 1 status in the Atlantic Ocean and was headed toward the Carolinas, the US National Hurricane Centre said Friday. (Photo: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty)

Eddie Wilder, who has been coming to Pawleys Island for more than six decades, said Friday’s storm was “insane to watch.” He said waves as high as 25 feet (7.6 meters) washed away the pier, just two doors down from his home.

“We watched it hit the pier and saw the pier disappear,” said Wilder, whose house sits about 30 feet (9 meters) above the ocean and stayed dry inside. “I’ve seen quite a few storms, and this one was wild. … We had a front row seat.”

The Pawleys pier was one of at least four along South Carolina’s coast to be destroyed during Ian’s winds and rain.

“We watched it crumble and watched it float by with an American flag still floating,” Wilder said.

Bridges on Pawleys Island were strewn with palm fronds, pine needles and even a kayak retrieved from a nearby shoreline. An intercoastal waterway was littered with the remnants of several boat houses torn apart and knocked off their pilings in the storm.

Even though Ian has long passed over Florida, new problems continued to arise. A 14-mile (22-kilometre) stretch of Interstate 75 was closed late Friday in both directions in the Port Charlotte area because of the water swelling the Myakka River.

Ross Giarratana, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Tampa, said the Myakka was cresting at a record 12.73 feet (3.88 meters) Saturday morning.

Further southeast, the Peace River was also at a major flood stage early Saturday in Polk, Hardee and DeSoto counties. The majority of those points have not yet crested, Giarratana said.

“It was crazy to look at just how quickly the rivers were rising,” he said. “We knew that we were in for some record stuff.”

People clear debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers Beach, Florida on September 30, 2022. - Forecasters expect Hurricane Ian to cause life-threatening storm surges in the Carolinas on Friday after unleashing devastation in Florida, where it left a yet unknown number of dead in its wake. After weakening across Florida, Ian regained its Category 1 status in the Atlantic Ocean and was headed toward the Carolinas, the US National Hurricane Center said Friday. (Photo by Giorgio VIERA / AFP) (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
People clear debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian (Photo: GIORGIO VIERA/AFP/Getty)

Searches were aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said.

Hurricane Ian has likely caused “well over $100 billion” in damage, including $63 billion in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modelling firm Karen Clark & Co., which regularly issues flash catastrophe estimates. If those numbers are borne out, that would make Ian at least the fourth costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

Tropical Storm Orlene is also anticipated to grow into a hurricane by Saturday as its heads for an expected landfall on Mexico’s northwestern Pacific coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Centre said Orlene had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph early Saturday. It was centred about 225 miles south-southwest of Cabo Corrientes and moving north at 5 mph.

The centre said Orlene is a small, compact storm, with tropical storm-force winds extending out only 45 miles (75 kilometres) from the centre.

It was forecast to grow to hurricane force by Saturday morning before falling back to tropical storm strength ahead of a forecast Monday landfall in Sinaloa state, in the region around the resort city of Mazatlan.

However, Orlene may bring heavy rains and high winds to the Pacific coast resort of Puerto Vallarta as it passes offshore. Puerto Vallarta closed its port to ship and boat traffic on Saturday as a precaution.

Additional reporting from agencies.

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