Hurricane Ian made its second U.S. landfall, crashing into the coast near Georgetown, S.C., on Friday afternoon as a Category 1 storm.
It is the first hurricane to strike South Carolina since Matthew in 2016. In the state’s beach towns, residents had been preparing for flooding, piling sandbags at the doors of shops and restaurants. Ahead of landfall, President Biden had urged residents to “please listen to all the warnings.”
In an afternoon briefing, the president also spoke of the “devastating” situation in Florida, where “we’re just beginning to see the scale of that destruction” after the storm’s initial landfall there. Officials in the state have been assessing the extent of damage that Ian left behind, with several areas still reeling from its destructive storm surge. Debris was strewn across Florida’s western coast, and more than 1.7 million customers were without power as of the afternoon. State officials said they had confirmed at least one storm-related death, with nearly two dozen fatalities that had been unconfirmed as storm-related as of Friday.
After plowing ashore as a Category 4 hurricane with 150-mph winds on Wednesday afternoon in southwest Florida, Ian made its second U.S. landfall about 48 hours later, crossed the coast near Georgetown at 2:05 p.m., packing 85-mph winds.
The National Hurricane Center warned the storm would bring a “life-threatening” surge and damaging winds. As the storm approached the coast, it produced a 4-foot surge in Myrtle Beach and a wind gust over 80 mph near Charleston.
Very turbulent conditions were expected to continue in coastal areas before easing Friday evening and night. The storm will continue to be a major rain-producer for inland areas, with areas of flooding possible, even as its winds weaken.
Biden declared an emergency in South Carolina late Thursday, with the White House saying it would dispatch federal assistance to supplement local response efforts.
“By approving it early, ahead of the storm’s landfall in South Carolina, we can get supplies in and provide shelter if necessary by approving it early ahead of the storm’s landfall,” said Biden, who noted that he had also spoken to South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R).
The president on Friday also provided an update on rescue operations in Florida, saying “we’re just beginning to see the scale of that destruction.”
“It’s likely to rank among the worst of the nation’s,” Biden said. “It’s going to take months, years to rebuild. And our hearts go out to all those folks whose lives have been absolutely devastated by this storm. America’s heart is literally breaking.”
Biden said the crisis “is not just a crisis for Florida.”
“This is an American crisis,” he said.
The president said emergency responders deployed “the largest team of search and rescue experts in recent history.”
The Coast Guard, he said, has also been deployed, with six fixed-wing aircraft, 18 rescue boats and 16 rescue helicopters. As of Friday, responders had rescued 117 people in the southwest Florida coast.
“I have immense gratitude for the first responders and emergency crews who always show up no matter what,” Biden said. In “times like these, Americans come together, they put aside politics, they put aside division, and we come together to help each other.”
Biden said he spoke with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) Friday morning.
More than 1.7 million customers in Florida remained without power as of 4 p.m. Friday, according to the PowerOutage.us tracker. At its peak, Ian left nearly 2 million customers in the dark.
The southwestern part of the state was particularly hard hit. DeSantis said during a news conference Friday morning that about 99% of Hardee County had no electricity. Emergency workers have restored about 15% of power in Charlotte and Lee counties, but the damage to power lines in some areas was so significant that some will need to be rebuilt, the governor said. Some 80% of DeSoto County had no power, while about 50% of Sarasota and Manatee counties had no power.
“The power is a big issue,” DeSantis said. “[Emergency responders] are working 24/7 to restore power all across Florida.”
“Major to record flooding” is expected to continue through next week across parts of central Florida, the National Hurricane Center said. DeSantis said the damage in Charlotte and Lee counties on Florida’s southwest coast was “almost indescribable,” with homes ripped off their foundations.
Several counties in western Florida urged residents to boil water before use, fearing that storm surges and flooding may have contaminated water lines.
Collier County in Florida imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on residents until further notice, the county sheriff’s office announced late Thursday. The curfew will remain active each night until 6 a.m.
“There is much unknown left to face with rising waters, debris in roads and many people have evacuated their homes and businesses,” the sheriff’s office wrote on Facebook. “We do not want criminals preying on our residents and businesses at one of the most vulnerable times in their life.”
Collier County, which has a population of about 386,000 people, suffered serious damage Thursday as storm surges from Hurricane Ian overwhelmed several areas. A fire rescue department in Naples was severely flooded, with station trucks submerged about halfway underwater. Video footage showed fire department members wading through water up to their waist.
Evacuations from hospitals, assisted-living centers and low-lying communities in Florida continued into the day Friday.
“So far we’ve had to do nearly 300 rescues of people trapped in flooded areas,” Daytona Beach Police Department public information officer Tim Ehrenkaufer said. “We have four or five boats out, and a fleet of high water vehicles to get to these people and take them to shelters.”
Beach residents were also waiting for the state department of transportation to inspect bridges so they would have access to the mainland.
“Most of the rescues have been inland, the beachside is mostly okay,” Ehrenkaufer said. “It’s people who have water in their homes up to their knees, or people who can’t get out of their homes because their street is flooded or there’s debris blocking their doors.”
The National Guard and Osceola County sheriffs deputies help to evacuate hundreds of residence from retirement homes in Kissimmee, south of Orlando, using airboats and trucks with high clearances. Heavy rains that fell in the days before the hurricane hit poised the area for flooding, meteorologists said.
“The water was already high, so there was nothing left to absorb it,” Ehrenkaufer said. “Then the hurricane brought too much rain in too short of time. There was nowhere for all that water to go.”
The devastation from Ian’s direct hit in Southwest Florida is still being tallied, but the storm’s sheer force as it crashed into the coastline has already placed Ian in the upper echelon of hurricanes to strike the United States.
By measure of sustained winds at landfall, Ian, at 150 mph, is in an eight-way tie for the fifth-strongest storm to strike the United States. Over the past two years, two other storms pummeled the United States with winds up to 150 mph: Hurricane Ida, which just last year carved a path of destruction from Louisiana to New York, and Hurricane Laura, which also slammed into Louisiana and brought with it a 17-foot storm surge.
On Friday morning, most businesses on South Carolina’s Folly Island were closed. Sandbags were piled at the doors of the shops and restaurants along Center Street, the Folly Beach community’s main commercial thoroughfare. Few businesses boarded up their windows, indicating that the primary concern is flooding not wind damage.
“It’s been a regular morning on Folly Beach, so far,” said Lisa Rowland, a clerk at Bert’s Market, one of the island’s only businesses to remain open as the storm’s first bands of wind and heavy rain rolled through. The shop’s tagline is, “We may doze but we never close.”
One customer, Brian Hawkins, stood outside with a cup of coffee. The 46-year-old owner of Hawkins Fishing Charters has lived on Folly Beach for most of his life. He says he wasn’t concerned about Ian until Thursday, when he began securing surfboards and items in his yard. At 4 p.m., he went to the island’s boat landing to fill up sandbags from the truckload of sand the city provided.
“One truckload was not enough,” said Hawkins, who had to scrape up the last of the pile. “By 5 p.m., they were out.”
Hawkins said he lost at least three days of fishing charters, but he’s seen worse in his time on Folly Island.
“I’m praying the wind shifts,” Hawkins said, referring to the westerly winds blowing water into the Folly River, filling up the estuary in advance of the day’s high tide at noon.
Storm surge was also the concern of homeowner Andy Lassiter, 39, who spent the morning raising the appliances in his marsh-front, ground-level home onto cut pieces of 4-by-4.
“I was relieved when I woke up today that the trajectory of the storm had shifted north, but still very nervous about the high lunar tide,” Lassiter said. “I think it’s going to be a flip of the coin.”
At the Washout, the island’s popular surf break, a few bold surfers braved the triple-overhead waves that had surprisingly clean faces due to the midmorning offshore winds. A Folly Beach police officer looked on from a beach walkover and said because it was too late, there were no plans to close the island to nonresidents, as is often the case during hurricanes.
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