Florida, Carolinas face daunting recovery after Hurricane Ian
As the full scope of devastation came into clearer focus days after Ian struck, officials said some of the heaviest damage was inflicted by raging wind-driven ocean surf that rushed into seaside communities and washed buildings away.
Satellite images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed beach cottages and a motel that lined the shores of Florida’s Sanibel Island had been demolished by storm surges. Although most homes appeared to still be standing, roof damage to all was evident.
Surveys from the ground showed that the barrier island, a popular tourist getaway that was home to some 6,000 residents, was left utterly devastated, from its infrastructure to its famously idyllic aesthetic character.
“It’s all just completely gone,” Sanibel’s city manager, Dana Souza, said. “Our electric system is pretty much destroyed, our sewer system has been damaged badly and our public water supply is under assessment.”
The island’s link to the mainland was severed by breaches to Sanibel’s causeway bridge, further complicating recovery efforts, Souza said.
After waning to a tropical storm by the end of its march across Florida to the Atlantic, Ian regained hurricane strength and pummeled coastal South Carolina on Friday, sweeping ashore near Georgetown, north of the historic port city of Charleston, with sustained winds reaching 140kph.
Numerous roads were flooded and blocked by fallen trees while a number of piers were damaged in that area.
Even as they confronted a staggering amount of utility repairs and debris removal, authorities were busy searching for the missing.
As of Friday, some 10,000 people were reported unaccounted for in Florida, according to the state’s emergency management director. He said many of those would likely turn out have merely been displaced and unreachable due to power and phone outages.
On Sanibel, crews were just making their way to the hard-hit east end of that island on Saturday, “so our situation is that we’re still in the search-and-rescue mode,” the city manager, Souza, said.
City officials were aware of nearly 300 households who failed to leave the island as the storm approached and whose whereabouts and well-being were now being checked, he said.
About 837,000 businesses and homes remained without power as Sunday morning in Florida alone, where more than 2 million customers lost electricity the first night of the storm.
In central Florida, heavy flooding from rain-swollen rivers and runoff appeared far more extensive than wind damage.
Insurers braced for between US$28 billion and US$47 billion in claims from what could amount to the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, according to US property data and analytics company CoreLogic.