Death toll tops 20 as Florida assesses damage from Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian barrelled towards South Carolina on Friday morning after leaving a path of devastation across Florida, where officials raced to assess damage and reported a death toll that could make the storm the deadliest in the state’s history.

At least 21 people have been reported dead following the hurricane in Florida, according to the state emergency management director. Ian made landfall on Wednesday as a category 4 hurricane, knocking down homes and store fronts along the south-west coast with powerful winds and surging waters before travelling across the Florida peninsula to enter the Atlantic Ocean.

After weakening into a tropical storm, Ian has since intensified to a category 1 hurricane. The National Hurricane Center warned of “life-threatening storm surge” when it makes landfall again in the Carolinas, while forecasting that severe river floods in central Florida will last until next week.

On Friday morning, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis said 1.9mn customers were still without electricity and half-a-dozen healthcare facilities in the state had been evacuated because of a loss of power and running water.

Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility, said on Friday that it had restored power for over 1mn of its customers, or half of those affected by Ian.

The hurricane tore through multiple regions of the state, inflicting particular damage on Fort Myers on the south-west coast, which was beset by severe flooding, as well as on inland areas such as Orlando. Ian also severed the only bridge connecting Sanibel Island to the Florida mainland, not far from Fort Myers.

With 21 people reported dead, the storm’s toll is already higher than the number of direct deaths attributed to Hurricane Andrew, previously Florida’s most lethal cyclone which resulted in 15 people dying.

Ian is expected to touch down in South Carolina sometime after noon local time on Friday, with 85mph winds and as much as a foot of rainfall. Already, thousands of customers in both South Carolina and North Carolina are reporting power outages.

The National Weather Service has implemented a flash flood warning in the Charleston area, while local police have urged residents to limit their movements to only “essential travel”.

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