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Oct. 1, 2022, 4:02 p.m. EDT

Hurricane Ian leaves dozens dead as focus turns to rescue, recovery

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By Associated Press

With a death toll nearing three dozen, rescuers searched on Saturday for survivors among the Florida homes ruined by Hurricane Ian, while authorities and stunned residents in South Carolina began surveying their losses and assessing the damage from the powerful storm’s strike there.

Ian, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the U.S., terrorized millions for most of the week, battering western Cuba before raking across Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and then mustering a final assault on the Carolinas.

The storm then weakened Saturday rolling into the mid-Atlantic.

See : Lost Sanibel causeway and ‘reversed’ Tampa Bay: Why Ian will rank among worst hurricanes in Florida history

At least 34 people were confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida mostly from drowning but others from the storm’s tragic aftereffects.

An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said. Four more deaths were reported in North Carolina and three earlier in Cuba.

As of Saturday, more than 1,000 people had been rescued from flooded areas along Florida’s southwestern coast alone, Daniel Hokanson, a four-star general and head of the National Guard, told The Associated Press while airborne to Florida.

Chris Schnapp was at the Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers on Saturday, waiting to see whether her 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 over there. They evacuated. She did not want to go, thinking it wasn’t going to be bad,” Schnapp said. Now, she said, she wasn’t sure if her mother-in-law was still on the island or had been taken to a shelter somewhere.

River flooding added a major challenge to rescue and supply delivery efforts. The Myakka River washed over a stretch of Interstate 75, forcing a traffic-snarling highway closure Saturday on the key corridor linking Tampa to the north with the hard-hit southwest Florida region that straddles Port Charlotte and Fort Myers.

While rising waters in Florida’s southwest rivers have crested or are near cresting, the levels aren’t expected to drop significantly for several days, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming in Tampa.

The Myakka River, he said, is “going to be at major flood level way into the week.”

South Carolina’s Pawleys Island, a beach community about 73 miles (117 kilometers) up the coast from Charleston, was among the places hardest hit by Ian, and power remained knocked out to 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 “insane to watch.” He said waves as high as 25 feet (7.6 meters) washed 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 house sits about 30 feet (9 meters) above the ocean and stayed dry inside. “We watched it crumble and and watched it float by with an American flag still floating.”

The Pawleys pier was one of at least four along South Carolina’s coast to be destroyed during Ian’s winds and rain. Portions of the pier, including barnacle-covered pylons, littered the beach. The intracoastal waterway was strewn with the remnants of several boat houses knocked off their pilings.

Traffic was shut off to Pawleys Island’s southernmost point, where crews were working to clear roadways of sand and other debris. The sand will later be redistributed to build back the dunes along the beach front, as happened after a similar event in 2019.

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