Hurricane Ian slammed Florida for a second day after making landfall as a catastrophic Category 4 storm on Wednesday.
Ian left a path of destruction in southwest Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, cutting off the only bridge to a barrier island, damaging the roof of a hospital intensive care unit and knocking out power to 2.5 million people as it dumped rain across the peninsula on Thursday.
"The Coast Guard had people who were in their attics and got saved off their rooftops," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said. "We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude ... 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."
Emergency crews drive through flooding in the Cyprus Lake area of Florida, seen from the air (WFOR image via FOX)
Emergency crews sawed through toppled trees to reach people in flooded homes, but with no electricity and virtually no cell service, it was impossible for many people to call for help from the hardest hit coastal areas where the surge came in.
A chunk of the Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people normally live. How many heeded mandatory evacuation orders was impossible to know in the storm's immediate aftermath.
Damage to the Sanibel causeway, seen from the air (WFOR image via FOX)
South of Sanibel Island, the historic beachfront pier in Naples got destroyed, with even the pilings underneath torn out, as towering waves crashed over the structure. "Right now, there is no pier," said Penny Taylor, a Collier County commissioner.
In Port Charlotte, the storm surge flooded a hospital's emergency room even as fierce winds ripped away part of the roof from its intensive care unit, according to a doctor who works there.
Water gushed down onto the ICU, forcing them to evacuate their sickest patients -- some on ventilators — to other floors, said Dr. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital. Staff members used towels and plastic bins to try to mop up the sodden mess.
President Joe Biden said the storm could end up as the "deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history."
"We know many families are hurting," Biden said at FEMA's National Response Coordination Center, where teams of specialists from across the federal government and partner organizations were monitoring the storm and assisting in recovery efforts. "Our entire country hurts with them."
Hurricane Ian injuries and fatalities
Authorities confirmed at least one storm death in Florida. A 72-year-old man was found dead early Thursday in water in a canal behind his home in Deltona near Daytona Beach, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. It said he appeared to be using a hose to drain his pool into the wide canal and fell down an incline that was "extremely soft and slippery due to the heavy rain."
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said his office was scrambling to respond to thousands of 911 calls, but many roads and bridges in Fort Myers and the surrounding area remain impassable.
"It crushed us." Marceno told ABC’s "Good Morning America." "We still cannot access many of the people that are in need."
At least two people were reported killed in Cuba, and a boat carrying Cuban migrants sank Wednesday in stormy weather east of Key West.
Sheriff Bull Prummell of Charlotte County, just north of Fort Myers, announced a curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. "for life-saving purposes," saying violators may face second-degree misdemeanor charges.
Hurricane Ian flooding
Rain and overflow from rivers is causing severe flooding near parts of Florida's Atlantic coast as the storm makes its way back out to sea.
The Daytona Beach region experienced "historic flooding" that includes water in people’s homes, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said at a news conference. He implored people to stay off the roads, and the county has imposed a curfew until 7 a.m. Friday.
"This is unprecedented for Volusia County," said local emergency management official Jim Judge.
Farther inland, residents of a nursing home were taken to ambulances and buses Thursday morning in an Orlando neighborhood that doesn’t typically flood.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said water was "at least waist deep" in Orlavista, near Orlando.
As of noon Thursday
Ian's tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 415 miles, also drenching much of Florida and the southeastern Atlantic coast.
The Florida Highway Patrol shut down a section of the Florida Turnpike, a main artery in the middle of the state, in the Orlando area due to significant flooding and said it will remain closed until the water subsides.
Law enforcement officials Fort Myers received calls from people trapped in flooded homes or from worried relatives. Pleas were also posted on social media sites, some with video showing debris-covered water sloshing toward the eaves of their homes.
As of noon Thursday
The federal government sent 300 ambulances with medical teams and was ready to truck in 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water once the storm passes.
DeSantis said the state has 30,000 linemen, urban search and rescue teams, and 7,000 National Guard troops from Florida and elsewhere ready to help once the weather clears.
The hurricane's center struck near Cayo Costa, a protected barrier island just west of Fort Myers.
A woman holds an umbrella inverted by the wind in Tampa, Florida, United States on September 28, 2022. (Photo by Ben Hendren/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Life-threatening storm surges and hurricane conditions were possible on Thursday and Friday along the coasts of northeast Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, where Ian was expected to move inland, dumping more rain well in from the coast, the hurricane center said.
Hurricane Ian power outages
Residents inspect damage to a marina as boats are partially submerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida, on September 29, 2022. (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)
More than 2.5 million homes and businesses were without electricity as of Thursday morning, and Florida Power and Light warned those in Ian’s path to brace for days without power.
Two counties, Lee and Charlotte, "are basically off the grid at this point," the governor said, and will likely have to rebuild the power structure.
DeSantis said he will ask the federal government to expand its emergency declaration to cover counties in central Florida that are also reporting damage.
Where will Ian go next?
Tracking Tropical Storm Ian (FOX Weather)
Ian has been on a weakening trend since moving onto the Florida Peninsula on Wednesday, but it is expected to remain a significant tropical threat Thursday, FOX Weather reports.
Damaging winds and flooding rains are the main concerns as Ian moves out of Florida and into the Atlantic, and hugs the coast as a tropical storm through the day.
In addition to winds and rain, the Florida coast is also facing the threat of storm surge as winds from Ian push ocean waters toward the shoreline. The forecast calls for a storm surge of up to 6 feet from near Jacksonville south to near Daytona Beach. Storm surge of up to 3 feet is possible along the Space Coast.
Ian is expected to move north toward the Georgia and South Carolina coastlines, making a third landfall on Friday afternoon in South Carolina. A hurricane warning was issued Thursday for the entire coast of South Carolina
Damaging winds and flooding rains are expected as Ian approaches the coast. Upwards of 7 inches of rain is possible, mainly along the coast of South Carolina. Interior parts of the Palmetto State could see between 3 and 5 inches of rain.
Storm surge is also a concern for Georgia and both of the Carolinas as up to 6 feet is possible along the Georgia coast north to Edisto Beach in South Carolina. A surge of up to 7 feet is possible for the South Carolina coast from Edisto Beach to the South Santee River. A surge up to 5 feet is possible for the remainder of the South Carolina coast, and a surge up to 4 feet is possible for most of the North Carolina coastline.
Ian will continue its slow chug across the southeastern U.S., weakening to a tropical depression in western North Carolina by Saturday afternoon.
Gusty winds and heavy rain are the primary concerns. Nearly 3 inches of rain is possible along the Appalachian Mountains from North Carolina into the Virginias and Kentucky. Persistent rain will also lead to nearly 4 inches of rain from the Delmarva Peninsula to the New Jersey coast.
When did Ian make landfall in the U.S.
Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cayo Costa on the southwest coast of Florida at 3:05 p.m. ET as a Category 4 storm on Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Ian turned streets into rivers and blew down trees with 150 mph (241 kph) winds, pushing a wall of storm surge. Ian’s strength at landfall is tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane, when measured by wind speed, ever to strike the U.S. Among the other storms was Hurricane Charley, which hit nearly the same spot on Florida's coast in August 2004, killing 10 people and inflicting $14 billion in damage.
Ian's center came ashore more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, sparing the densely populated Tampa Bay area from its first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
Keep track of where Ian is right now on FOX Weather by clicking here.
Photos of Ian’s impact
Brenda Brennan sits next to a boat that pushed against her apartment when Hurricane Ian passed through the area on September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
How can you help
Charitable organizations are offering ways to help people to help victims of Hurricane Ian. Click here to learn how you can help victims impacted by Ian and how to avoid scams.
The Associated Press, FOX Weather, Storyful and Chris Williams contributed to this report.