The US Coast Guard began performing hurricane rescue missions on barrier islands off southwest Florida early Thursday, as soon as the winds died down, Gov. Ron DeSantis says at a news conference.
“The Coast Guard had people who were in their attics and got saved off their rooftops,” DeSantis says. The most vulnerable areas were along the barrier islands of Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties, along with inlets and inland areas along rivers.
Power failures from Hurricane Ian are significant, he says. Two counties, Lee and Charlotte, “are basically off the grid at this point,” the governor says, and will likely have to rebuild the power structure.
“We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude,” DeSantis says. “The amount of water that’s been rising, and will likely continue to rise today even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500-year flooding event.”
An earlier report of hundreds of deaths in Lee County has not been confirmed and was likely an estimate based on 911 calls, the governor says.
He later speaks to US President Joe Biden about next steps in the federal response to Hurricane Ian, with central Florida counties also being battered as Ian marches across the state.
Ian is expected to regain near-hurricane strength after emerging over Atlantic waters near the Kennedy Space Center later in the day, with South Carolina in its sights for a second US landfall.