Gov. DeSantis surveys Ian damage; 2M reported power outages as of Friday morning

Authorities confirm 12 deaths

In this aerial photo, damaged boats and debris are stacked along the shore in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE – After traveling Thursday to Southwest Florida to get a glimpse of the damage caused by Hurricane Ian, Gov. Ron DeSantis described the impact on Lee County’s Sanibel Island as “destruction,” with people who didn’t evacuate being rescued by air and part of a causeway to the mainland knocked out.

Meanwhile, authorities confirmed 12 deaths from the storm amid fears that the number could increase significantly as crews go into communities.

Officials in Charlotte County confirmed six deaths, while Lee County officials confirmed five. Also, in Central Florida, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office reported a storm-related death involving a 72-year-old Deltona man who died after falling down an incline while draining his pool.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said during a morning appearance on the television show “Good Morning America” that fatalities were “in the hundreds.” Marceno later said he couldn’t “give a true assessment” until authorities got to the scene.

DeSantis said Marceno was referring to an “estimate” based on people who called 911 about rising water in their homes.

During a Thursday evening news conference, DeSantis also spoke about the reported deaths.

“I know that people have said certain things — in terms of confirmed, that will be made apparent over the coming days,” he said.

After surveying the damage, DeSantis said seeing the destruction was almost indescribable.

He said some of the most significant damage he came across was in Fort Myers Breach.

“Some of the homes were wiped out, and some of it was just concrete slabs,” the governor said.

When it comes to electricity in homes, as of 6 p.m. Thursday, DeSantis said there were approximately 2.6 million power outages reported throughout the state.

After traveling to Southwest Florida, DeSantis also held a news conference at the Charlotte County Emergency Operations Center in Punta Gorda. He said Sanibel Island “got hit with really biblical storm surge. And it washed away roads and it washed away structures that were not new.”

DeSantis said people had been rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and local law-enforcement air operations.

“Many people did leave Sanibel. And they did heed the call, which is good. Obviously,” DeSantis said.

The state Division of Emergency Management issued an update saying that as of 2 p.m., more than 500 people had been rescued in Lee and Charlotte counties. Search and rescue efforts were “ongoing in impacted areas,” the agency said in a Twitter post.

DeSantis said the causeway to Sanibel Island will be rebuilt, “but that’s not something that will happen overnight.”

A section of the Sanibel Causeway was lost due to the effects of Hurricane Ian Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Ian lashes Southwest Florida with 150 mph max winds

The storm made landfall Wednesday in Lee and Charlotte as a Category 4 hurricane before crossing the state through Central Florida.

The deadliest hurricane in Florida history was the September 1928 storm, which caused 2,500 to 2,800 deaths after it hit West Palm Beach and flooded communities around Lake Okeechobee.

The 1935 Labor Day hurricane, which swept north after hitting the Florida Keys, caused more than 400 deaths.

Biden and DeSantis, who frequently clash about political and policy issues, said the state and federal governments will work together on rescue, relief and rebuilding efforts The two talked Thursday morning, and Biden said later he plans to visit Florida at a time when he will not get in the way of rescue efforts.

Hurricane Michael, which hit Mexico Beach and decimated parts of Northwest Florida in 2018, is estimated to have caused 50 deaths. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 has been linked to 44 deaths.

“We’re seeing millions of people without power and thousands hunkered down in schools and community centers,” Biden said after getting a briefing at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. “They’re wondering what’s going to be left, what’s going to be left when they get to go home, quote unquote, home, or even if they have a home to go to. Some of the folks have been through this before. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Actually, it makes the anxiety even higher in my view.”

“My message to the people of Florida, the country at times like this, America comes together,” Biden continued. “We’re going to pull together as one team, as one America. First thing this morning as I talked to Gov. DeSantis and again offered the fullest federal support.”

Biden early Thursday issued a major-disaster declaration, making federal assistance available to people in parts of Florida and providing help to the state and local governments with costs of debris removal and emergency-protective measures.

About the Authors:

Jim is a Capitol reporter for the News Service of Florida, providing coverage on issues ranging from transportation and the environment to Legislative and Cabinet politics.

Lifetime Jacksonville resident & broadcast news producer who's been reporting & writing for nearly a decade here at The Local Station.