Deadliest Hurricane In Florida History

Hurricane Ian

State and federal officials continue to help thousands of people affected by Tropical Storm Ian, according to President Joe Biden on Thursday.

During a briefing of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Biden said, “This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history.” Biden will visit Florida soon.

According to the president, the number of fatalities is still unclear, and Florida officials have yet to release official death tolls. Earlier in the day, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at least two deaths were likely caused by the storm. More clarity on deaths is expected in the “next day or two,” the governor said.

More than 2,500 people died in Florida during the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, which was the deadliest hurricane in Florida history.

As the storm made landfall on Wednesday, it unleashed winds of 150 mph and caused a “500-year flood event,” according to DeSantis. At least 15,000 people have sought shelter in place. Approximately 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate before the storm made landfall. It is estimated that more than 2.6 million people are without power.

The floodwaters in some of the hardest-hit areas exceeded 6 feet; videos on social media showed water bursting through doors and swelling up to the second story. As a result of the weather carnage, bridges collapsed into the water, and trees fell across the state, causing power outages. This is one of the worst storms the state has ever seen.

According to DeSantis, Lee and Charlotte counties are essentially off the grid at this point. Lee County is home to Fort Myers.

As a result of the historic flooding unleashed by the storm, the state launched efforts to rescue thousands of people stranded in their homes. Additionally, Biden declared a major disaster in Florida, bringing with it federal aid to support state, local, and tribal recovery efforts.

“You’re looking at a storm that’s changed the character of a significant part of our state,” DeSantis said. “And this is going to require not just emergency response now in the days or weeks ahead — this is going to require years of efforts to be able to rebuild and come back.”

DeSantis remained optimistic that flood-stranded victims would be rescued.

“We’re obviously hoping that they can be rescued at this point, and I know the folks there locally, those are the areas they want to spring into action to,” DeSantis said.

In the hardest-hit areas, 28 Chinook helicopters are performing rescue missions. DeSantis said 100 engineers were also deployed to assess damage to bridges, including the Sanibel Causeway and Pine Island Bascule Bridge, which are currently impassable.

There were widespread power outages and water shut-offs in a hospital system in Lee County, which was badly hit by Ian. According to Mary Mayhew, CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, Lee Health, which includes Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, evacuated 1,000 patients at daybreak on Thursday. Medical personnel from across the state converged on the area as rescuers moved the injured to facilities outside the area that were willing to help.

Following Biden’s declaration of Ian a major disaster, the governor and Biden spoke Thursday morning about how the storm affected nine counties in the state. Additionally, Biden spoke with Lee County commissioner Cecil Pendergrass.

On Friday, Biden will send FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to Florida to assess the response and see where more assistance is needed. “The President and Governor committed to continuing close coordination,” White House officials said.

On Thursday morning, Ian was moving over the east coast of Florida at about 8 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph – compared with 150 mph on Wednesday. By Friday, tropical storm-force winds are expected to spread across northeastern Florida toward Georgia, North and South Carolina. There is still a hurricane watch in effect for these areas. It is expected that the storm will leave Florida as soon as Thursday. Home and business owners have been battered by flooding and powerful winds caused by the storm.

As part of the president’s disaster recovery plan, the federal government could offer grants for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

“We have some reports of fatalities” in Lee County, including those from the local sheriff, and Criswell said Thursday that “the number is likely to increase.” Criswell said she had not heard of many fatalities in other parts of Florida throughout the night, “but we’re going to continue to receive more information as soon as daylight comes and first responders continue to get out there.”

“What I know right now is Lee County was basically ground zero for the impacts that were seen from Hurricane Ian,” Criswell said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And we know that we are going to have catastrophic impacts to that area.”

In order to assess the greatest impact areas and “get boots on the ground in those areas of greatest need,” officials will gather post-storm imagery as soon as it’s safe to fly. As individuals called 911 to report being trapped by the storm and needing rescue, search and rescue teams worked throughout the night, Criswell said, and as officials prepare for the storm’s toll on the eastern coast of Florida, these crews will continue to deploy.

In its disaster declaration, the White House said damage assessments are ongoing in other areas of the state and additional areas may be designated for assistance after the assessments are completed.

Biden’s approval comes just a day after DeSantis officially requested the disaster declaration. In support of DeSantis’ request, the entire Florida congressional delegation wrote to Biden.

“This historic hurricane will continue to affect the state for a number of days, and the full extent of the damage will not be known for some time.” The lawmakers, led by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R), wrote in a letter that approving this declaration request would allow Floridians to prepare for recovery.

As part of the recovery efforts, 5,000 National Guard troops were activated by the state. There are at least 40,000 workers standing by to help restore power.

Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said that 3,000 rescue efforts are underway in Lee County. Scott said the “whole city” of Naples is under water, and local first responders have already lost two brand new fire trucks to the flooding.

“Well, the process right now – unfortunately, I’ve done this enough times to tell you – is that first you have to keep everyone safe, then you have to rescue everyone,” Scott said.

In Fort Myers, Fla., Karen Baughman, 81, was hunkered down in her home after the hurricane struck. Her neighborhood did not experience flooding, and she felt safe.

“I’ve been through three hurricanes here and only once did I have to go to a shelter,” she said in an interview. “My home felt safe. It’s always sounded worse — the predictions — than it’s been. And I didn’t really know where I would go.”

For more on this story, please consider these sources:

  1. ‘Substantial loss of life’ possible in Florida as Tropical Storm Ian now takes aim at South Carolina  CNN
  2. LIVE | Hurricane Ian – After the Storm — Florida begins damage assessment of damage  ABC Action News
  3. Ian continues to batter Central Florida as residents cope with record flooding  WESH 2 Orlando
  4. DeSantis already a target as Hurricane Ian hits  The Hill
  5. Natural Gas Futures Slide Early as Ian Leaves Millions without Power  Natural Gas Intelligence
John Nightbridge is a veteran reporter, researcher, and economic policy major from UCLA. Passionate about world issues and potential ways to solve them is a significant focus of his work. Writing freelance and reading the news are John's passions at work. Outside of work, it's all about sky diving, surfing, and stock market modeling.