A revived and deadly Hurricane Ian is barreling its way north toward South Carolina’s coast today and the historic city of Charleston, a day after carving a path of destruction across central Florida that left rescue crews racing to reach trapped residents along the state’s Gulf Coast.
Scores of residents in Charleston, watching the devastation that Hurricane Ian brought to Florida on television, have fled the city in a steady stream of vehicles and are heading for higher ground.
Hurricane Ian, now a Category 1 storm with 85mph sustained winds, is expected to hit the low-lying city at about 2pm ET today, bringing with it ‘life-threatening’ storm surges and floods, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest update.
A hurricane warning has been issued across hundreds of miles of coastline, stretching from the Savannah River to Cape Fear, with flooding likely across the Carolinas and southwestern Virginia, the NHC said.
A hurricane warning has also been issued for the entire coast of South Carolina, including Hilton Head island, Charleston and Myrtle Beach.
The center said there is a danger of a ‘life-threatening’ storm surge of up to 7 feet along the coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, as well as rainfall of up to 8 inches.
Charleston is particularly at risk; a city-commissioned report released in November 2020 found about 90% of all residential properties were vulnerable to storm surge flooding.
Predicted storm surges were not as severe as those issued by the NHC when the storm was approaching Florida. Edisto Beach, South Carolina, a resort destination about 30 miles south of Charleston, was expected to see a 4- to 7-foot surge.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urged residents to ‘take necessary precautions,’ warning of possible flooding, landslides and tornadoes.
‘This storm is still dangerous,’ Cooper said.
In Florida, where Ian first came ashore on Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US mainland, the extent of the damage caused by the hurricane became more apparent on Thursday.
Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through riverine streets Thursday to save thousands of Floridians trapped amid flooded homes and buildings shattered by the hurricane.
Residents in Charleston, South Carolina, are boarding up their properties as they await Hurricane Ian’s arrival on Friday
Highway cameras have captured long queues of residents fleeing South Carolina as the Charleston County has issued a state of emergency
Hurricane Ian, now a Category 1 storm with 85mph sustained winds, is expected to hit the Charleston at about 2pm ET today, bringing with it ‘life-threatening’ storm surges and floods, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest update
In Florida, where Ian first came ashore on Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US mainland, the extent of the damage caused by the hurricane became more apparent on Thursday. Pictured: Flooded houses in Fort Myers on Thursday
This aerial photo shows damaged homes and debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Thursday in Fort Myers, Fla
Famaged buildings are seen as Hurricane Ian passed through the area on September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers Beach, Florida
People walk along the beach looking at property damaged by Hurricane Ian on Thursday in Bonita Springs, Florida
An aerial view of damaged boats after Hurricane Ian caused widespread destruction in Fort Myers, Florida
First responders with Orange County Fire Rescue use a boat to rescue a resident in a flooded neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Thursday
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at least 700 rescues, mostly by air, were conducted on Thursday involving the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Guard and urban search-and-rescue teams.
At least 17 people have died in Florida, but officials fear the confirmed death toll could rise considerably.
Some of the damage to coastal towns, including Fort Myers Beach, was ‘indescribable,’ DeSantis, who surveyed the affected areas from the air on Thursday.
The hurricane flooded homes on both the state’s coasts, cut off the only road access to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and knocked out electricity to 2.6 million Florida homes and businesses – nearly a quarter of utility customers. Some 2.1 million of those customers remained in the dark days afterward.
Climate change added at least 10% more rain to Hurricane Ian, according to a study prepared immediately after the storm, said its co-author, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab climate scientist Michael Wehner.
Jonathan Strong holds his vest above the water as he wades through floodwaters while knocking on doors in a flooded mobile home community in Iona, an unincorporated community in Lee County near Fort Myers, Fla., on Thursday
In an aerial view, damaged buildings are seen as Hurricane Ian passed through the area on Thursday in Fort Myers Beach
In an aerial view, boats are seen along side a home after Hurricane Ian passed through the area on September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers Beach, Florida
An old classic car sits in front of a house in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, in Fort Myers, Florida on Thursday
An aerial picture taken on September 29, 2022 shows a big washed up boat sitting in the middle of a street in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida
Search and rescue personnel wade through the waters of a flooded neighborhood as they search for survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, in Fort Myers, Florida
Hurricane Categories explained
Here, the US National Hurricane Center explains what the different categories of hurricanes mean:
Sustained winds of 74-95 mph
Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
Sustained winds of 96-110mph
Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.
Sustained winds of 111-129mph
Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
Sustained winds of 130-156mph
Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Sustained winds of 157mph or higher
Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
In the coming days, river flooding in Central Florida could reach record levels as the torrential downpours that accompanied Ian drain into major waterways, the NHC said.
In the Fort Myers area, the hurricane ripped homes from their slabs and deposited them among shredded wreckage.
Businesses near the beach were completely razed, leaving twisted debris. Broken docks floated at odd angles beside damaged boats. Fires smoldered on lots where houses once stood.
‘I don’t know how anyone could have survived in there,’ William Goodison said amid the wreckage of a mobile home park in Fort Myers Beach where he’d lived for 11 years. Goodison said he was alive only because he rode out the storm at his son’s house inland.
The hurricane tore through the park of about 60 homes, leaving many destroyed or mangled beyond repair, including Goodison’s single-wide home. Wading through waist-deep water, Goodison and his son wheeled two trash cans containing what little he could salvage – a portable air conditioner, some tools and a baseball bat.
The road into Fort Myers was littered with broken trees, boat trailers and other debris. Cars were left abandoned in the road, having stalled when the storm surge flooded their engines.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said his office was scrambling to respond to thousands of 911 calls in the Fort Myers area, but many roads and bridges were impassable.
Emergency crews sawed through toppled trees to reach stranded people. Many in the hardest-hit areas were unable to call for help because of electrical and cellular outages.
A chunk of the Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people live.
Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained hurricane strength Thursday evening over the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center predicted it would hit South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane Friday.
National Guard troops were being positioned in South Carolina to help with the aftermath, including any water rescues. And in Washington, President Joe Biden lapproved an emergency declaration for the state, a needed step to speed federal assist for recovery once Ian passes.
The storm was on track to later hit North Carolina, forecasters said. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to prepare for torrents of rain, high winds and potential power outages.
Visiting the state’s emergency operations center Thursday, Cooper said that up to 7 inches of rain could fall in some areas, with the potential for mountain landslides and tornadoes statewide.
Sanibel Island, a popular vacation destination on the Gulf Coast, was hit hard, and the only bridge leading to the island was impassable, forcing rescue teams to use helicopters and boats to reach residents in need.
Residents in Fort Myers were met with scenes of devastation when they were able to get to the lower floors of their properties, which were left in chaos after floodwater swept through
Debris has gathered in a lake near damaged properties in Fort Myers, Florida, being pushed to one side by the 155mph storm winds
Good Samaritans are seen in Orange County trying to keep children from wading through the flash floodwater as Hurricane Ian continues to cross the state
In Punta Gorda, directly in the hurricane’s path, trees, debris and power lines covered roadways, though many buildings withstood the storm’s onslaught better than feared.
Brenda Siettas, 62, a paraprofessional who works with students, was in the city in 2004 when Hurricane Charley blasted much of her neighborhood away. Buildings constructed since then are more able to survive high winds, she said.
‘They definitely built back much better since Charley,’ she said. ‘Back then I stayed here for two weeks: no power, no water, no sewer.’
Biden, who spoke to DeSantis on Thursday, said he would travel to Florida when conditions allow. Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Deanne Criswell will be in Florida on Friday.
The president also approved a disaster declaration, making federal resources available to areas impacted by the storm.