Florida continued Saturday to see a heavy toll that had already claimed dozens of deaths as Hurricane Ian passed through the following night after causing flooding in South Carolina.
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A Florida law enforcement spokesman confirmed to AFP on Saturday morning the provisional number of victims at 23, most of whom drowned and most of whom were elderly.
Some US media reported an even higher death toll, with CNN putting the death toll at 45.
Meanwhile, the search continued to find 16 passengers aboard a migrant boat that capsized in bad weather near the Keys archipelago on Wednesday.
The Coast Guard said two people aboard the boat were found dead in the water, while nine others were rescued by swimming in the sea or ashore.
After destroying Florida, Ian moved into South Carolina, where it made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane near Georgetown on Friday afternoon, with sustained winds of 140 km/h, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.
On Saturday morning, Ian was still in the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern United States with sustained winds of 35 km/h with “heavy rain,” the NHC said in its latest bulletin.
“Post-Tropical Hurricane Ian will continue to weaken near the Virginia-North Carolina border,” the NHC said.
Despite its weakness, officials in several southeastern states have urged people to remain vigilant as heavy rains are still expected.
More than 500,000 homes and businesses were without power Saturday afternoon in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, according to the specialty site poweroutage.us.
Florida still has 1.2 million homes and businesses without power.
In addition to the high population density on the peninsula, the property damage is “historic,” Gov. Ron DeSantis says, adding that the levels reached by the rising waters are unprecedented.
Streets and houses were flooded by the storm and boats moored at the marina were washed ashore. On Friday, in Kissimmee, not far from Orlando, officials rushed boats across flooded areas to rescue people trapped in their homes.
At this point, “we’re starting to see the scale of the devastation,” Joe Biden said during a speech that “has the potential to rank among the worst in American history.”
“It will take months, years to rebuild,” he lamented.
In the coastal city of Fort Myers, dubbed the “epicenter” by Ron DeSantis, a handful of restaurants and bars reopened, and dozens of people sat on terraces, giving residents a semblance of normalcy amid broken trees and destroyed facades.
“It was terrible, but we held on. The roof of our house blew off, a big tree fell on our cars, our garden was flooded, but other than that, it’s okay,” said Dylan Camper, 23, who welcomed the unity that reigned among the neighbors.
According to early estimates, the passage of Hurricane Ian will cost insurers tens of billions of dollars and weigh on US growth, particularly due to flight cancellations and damage to agricultural production.
Rain associated with Hurricane Ian has increased by at least 10% due to climate change, according to the first rapid study by US scientists published on Friday.
“Climate change didn’t cause hurricanes, but it made them wetter,” said one of the scientists involved in the study, Michael Wehner of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, part of the Department of Environment and Energy.
Before Florida, Ion hit Cuba, causing three deaths and extensive damage and leaving many homes without power.