As search operations continue, the death toll from Hurricane Ian is expected to rise

Iona, Fla. – Florida residents are left with widespread destruction and flooding after Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms to hit the United States, continues search efforts and the death toll has risen to at least 48.

Across the worst-hit areas of the state, local and central rescue teams continued to search neighborhoods for survivors. “We’re not in a rescue mode,” said Chase Fabrizio, head of Maryland Task Force 1, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s search and rescue team. “We’re still searching.”

Across the southwestern and central parts of the state, about 800,000 homes and businesses were without power Sunday afternoon. In North Carolina, more than 16,000 customers are still without power.

Meanwhile, many bridges have collapsed, hampering rescue operations. The 12-mile barrier island to Sanibel is cut off from the island’s mainland.

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden plan to travel to Puerto Rico on Monday and Florida on Wednesday to view hurricane damage. The White House announced late Saturday.

Their visit comes as the president warned that Ian could be Florida’s deadliest hurricane. The confirmed death toll is expected to rise as autopsies are completed and rescue operations continue.

Florida’s Board of Medical Examiners reported Saturday night that 44 deaths were caused by the hurricane in the state, most of them drowning. Many of the victims were over 60 years of age. Bodies were found inside flooded cars, floating in the water and on the beach. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said four people have died in North Carolina as a result of the storm.

Officials said 30 of the Florida victims were found in Lee County, including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Cape Coral. The district has no running water and nearly 70 percent is without electricity.

Across the affected area, residents were busy cleaning up on Sunday. Many waited days to return home amid floods and washed-out roads.

In Iona, a small coastal community between Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach, tall piles of sodden beds, mattresses and kitchen cabinets littered front lawns.

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In a predominantly Latino neighborhood, some residents were drying their clothes in the sun. Volunteers drove the water. Luis Hernandez, 33, said, “Everyone stays here, but we clean up and put our things out, but we don’t have water, we don’t have clothes.”

As he helped his parents clean out their home, Rafael Martinez, 15, said the water rose so fast that “everything was destroyed.” He and his family climbed onto a table and chairs to stay above the water, he said, adding that he thinks his family — and all of his neighbors — survived.

Many shop fronts were damaged in the flood. John Henson, who owns a two-story commercial office in the area, returned to his business to find someone broke during the storm.

“If someone needs shelter or food, I’ll give them both,” Henson said. “But they were stealing things, trying to move things from one room to another … and breaking and kicking doors for no reason.”

This part of Fort Myers is “not going to be what it once was,” predicts Henson.

“You don’t realize how bad it is until you start driving the side roads,” said Henson, who lives near Shell Point. “It’s brutal out there.”

Explore aerial images of Hurricane Ian’s damage along the Florida coast

In Punta Gorda, about 25 miles north of Fort Myers, Johnny Riggs and his family waited inside a shelter Saturday night.

Riggs, 73, said she left with her daughter and granddaughter shortly before Ian’s landslide and went to a shelter near their residence. After the rains, they returned home.

There was little damage to their building, but the lack of electricity in the area made it difficult to stay. Few restaurants and shops in the area were open because the food inside the refrigerator had gone bad.

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Worse, the building now has no water, he said. Three days later, the family moved out of the apartment on a Saturday morning and stayed in the high school gymnasium, which is part of the Babcock Ranch planned community.

“We used to use bottled water to flush the commode, but now it’s all gone,” said Riggs, finishing a free spaghetti dinner while her daughter Courtney Riggs-Johnston and granddaughter Trevlin, 14, rummaged through boxes of donated clothes.

“It feels like we’re going backwards,” Riggs said, with long lines of cars outside some gas stations stocked with fuel and many roads still closed due to flooding.

Although they promised help, officials on Sunday acknowledged the long road to recovery. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told ABC News’ “This Week” on Sanibel, a barrier island near Fort Myers. would be unlivable For the foreseeable future.

“I think our priority right now is to identify people who want to stay in Sanibal, but ultimately have to leave because they don’t have the means to make a living there,” Rubio said, adding that “a couple.” The bridge connecting Sanibel to the mainland must be rebuilt.

Rubio said the total damage was more devastating than anything he could recall in Florida history. “Fort Myers Beach doesn’t exist anymore. It needs to be rebuilt,” he said. “It’s a piece of old Florida that you can’t recapture.”

Speaking at the same event, FEMA Administrator Dean Criswell said emergency workers are “still actively involved in the search and rescue phase” and “going door to door to make sure we don’t leave anyone behind.”

Several guests on Sunday morning’s programs were asked about the need for stricter building codes.

“After this, we’re going to know that we need to improve our … building codes,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Criswell echoed the sentiment at the same show, insisting that Florida must make sure “as we rebuild, we rebuild with greater strength.”

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But local officials have pushed back, arguing that current regulations are sufficient. “We have good building codes,” Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said on “Face the Nation.”

“The new houses, they weathered the storm,” he said, proof that building codes for new construction were adequate. “Older homes, built low and not up to current codes, suffered the most damage.”

On Sunday, officials in Lee County also faced new questions about how long they waited to make evacuation decisions. Uncertain predictions In the days before the storm.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno defended the government’s response. “We did exactly what we had to do,” Marceno said during a news conference. He said there was no delay in providing evacuation. “The second we could and had to issue that order, we did,” he said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) defended Lee County, telling CNN on Sunday that it was faced with a storm that took an unexpected turn and issued evacuation orders as soon as it was justified.

Asked if the state would investigate the evacuation orders issued, DeSantis said, “They told people, most people don’t want to do that.”

“That’s the truth,” he added. “You’re in a situation where — are you going to kick someone out of their home who doesn’t want to? I don’t think that’s a proper use of government.

Flooding is expected to continue across parts of Central Florida, causing further destruction and further challenging cleanup efforts and rescue efforts. It is estimated that the storm has already formed Over $60 billion in property losses In Florida.

Floridians hit by hurricane, gridlock, flooding, extensive damage

Craig reported from Iona, Olivo reported from Sarasota and Waylon DC Karoon Demirjian, Meryl Kornfield and Amy P. Wang in Washington and Matt Brown in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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