AFP, published Sunday 02 October 2022 at 05:28
The toll continues to rise in Florida after Hurricane Ian passed through, which claimed at least 44 lives in this southern state of the United States and was expected to dissipate on Sunday night.
“There are now 44 deaths attributed to Hurricane Ian,” the Florida Department of Forensic Medicine said. Most by drowning and in their vast majority the elderly.
President Joe Biden and his wife Jill are scheduled to visit that state on Wednesday to look at the damage this hurricane has caused, according to the White House. They will travel Monday to Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Fiona in September.
Lee County, which was badly hit by Ian, has recorded 35 deaths alone, according to its sheriff, while US media, including NBC and CBS, have recorded more than 70 deaths linked directly or indirectly to the storm.
The controversy swelled on Saturday over the late arrival of evacuation orders for more than 600,000 residents in that county, accounting for half of the confirmed victims.
The order would have been issued Tuesday morning while neighboring counties ordered their residents to evacuate on Monday, the New York Times says.
– “No one tells us what to do” –
Sitting in the shadow of an abandoned house in Matlacha, Chip Farrar grows increasingly angry. “Nobody tells us what to do. Nobody tells us where to go,” he told AFP.
“The evacuation orders came very late,” said the 43-year-old. “But most of the people who are still there wouldn’t have gone anyway. It’s a working-class place. And most of the people have nowhere to go, that’s the biggest problem,” he said.
At the same time, the search found sixteen passengers on a migrant boat that capsized near the Keys archipelago on Wednesday due to bad weather.
The Coast Guard said they found two people from the boat dead in the water, with nine others rescued either offshore or after swimming ashore.
After devastating Florida, Ian made his way to South Carolina, where it made landfall near Georgetown on Friday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane with winds up to 90 mph, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).
More than 900,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida as of Saturday night.
– unprecedented –
On Saturday afternoon, Ian carried winds up to 35 km/h in what was still “heavy rain” across the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern United States, the NHC said in its latest bulletin.
Despite the expected slowdown, authorities in several states have urged caution because of the expected heavy rains.
More than 500,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were without power as of Saturday noon, according to specialist website poweroutage.us.
Florida still had nearly 1.2 million homes and businesses without power.
In addition to the high rate of casualties, the amount of material damage on the peninsula is “historic,” according to Gov. Ron DeSantis that the magnitude caused by the rising waters was unprecedented.
– years to rebuild –
In this state, “we are just beginning to appreciate the extent of the destruction” that is “probably among the worst” in United States history, President Joe Biden said.
“Reconstruction will take months, years,” he lamented.
In the coastal city of Fort Myers, dubbed the “epicenter” by Ron DeSantis, a handful of restaurants and bars had reopened and dozens of people sat outside, offering residents a semblance of normalcy amid fallen trees and shattered facades.
“It was pretty awful, but we persevered. The roof of our house blew off, a big tree fell on our cars, our yard was flooded but other than that it’s fine,” said Dylan Gamber, 23, welcoming the solidarity seen between neighbors.
According to initial estimates, the passage of Hurricane Ian could cost insurers tens of billions of dollars and weigh on American growth, particularly through flight cancellations and damage to agricultural production.
– 1,100 people saved –
More than 1,100 people have been rescued in the state so far, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said on Saturday morning.
Rainfall associated with Hurricane Ian has increased by at least 10% due to climate change, according to a first rapid study by American scientists released Friday.
“Climate change didn’t cause the hurricane, but it did make it wetter,” said one of the scientists involved in the study, Michael Wehner, of the Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory, part of the Department of the Environment.
Ian struck Cuba off Florida, causing three deaths and extensive damage, leaving many houses without power there as well.
In September, Puerto Rico was damaged by Hurricane Fiona. The presidential couple has to go there on Monday.