Author: ADRIANA GOMEZ-LICON

PUNTA GORDA, Florida (AP) – Rescue teams piloted boats and broke through flooded streets on Thursday to rescue thousands of Florians trapped amid flooded homes and dilapidated buildings left by Hurricane Ian, which entered the Atlantic Ocean and headed for another exit on land in South Carolina.

Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian recovered his hurricane strength on Thursday night after surfacing over the Atlantic Ocean. The National Hurricane Center predicted it would land in South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane on Friday.

The devastation inflicted on Florida came to the fore the day after Ian struck a monstrous Category 4 hurricane and one of the strongest storms ever to hit the United States. , destroyed a historic waterfront pier and blocked electricity in 2.67 million Florida homes and businesses – nearly a quarter of utility consumers.

At least one man has been confirmed dead in Florida, while two others have been killed in Cuba after a hurricane hit the island on Tuesday.

Aerial shots of the Fort Myers area, a few miles west of where Ian hit the ground, showed houses torn out of slabs and abandoned amongst the fragmented debris. The businesses near the beach were completely razed to the ground, leaving behind twisted debris. Broken docks floated at strange angles alongside broken boats, and fires smoldered on lots where houses had once stood.

“I don’t know how anyone could have survived there,” said William Goodson among the ruins of Fort Myers Beach caravan park, where he lived for 11 years.

The hurricane made its way through the park, which contained about 60 houses, many of them, including Goodson’s one wide house, damaged or irreparably damaged. Wading in waist-deep water, Goodson and his son wheeled two trash cans containing what he had saved – a portable air conditioner, tools and a baseball bat.

The road to Fort Myers was littered with broken trees, boat trailers and other rubbish. Cars were abandoned on the road, which stopped when a storm flooded their engines.

“We’ve never seen a storm like this,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told a news conference. “The amount of water that rises and will likely continue to increase, even as a storm passes through, is basically a 500-year flood.”

After leaving Florida as a tropical storm on Thursday and entering the Atlantic Ocean north of Cape Canaveral, Ian again fell into a hurricane with a wind of 75 mph (120 km / h). The hurricane center predicted it would strengthen further before it hit South Carolina on Friday, but would still remain a Category 1 storm.

A hurricane warning was issued for the South Carolina coast and extended to Cape Fear on the southeast coast of North Carolina. With tropical storm winds reaching 415 miles (667 kilometers) from its center, Ian was expected to push a 1.5 meter-high storm surge into coastal areas in Georgia and Carolina. Up to 8 inches (20.32 cm) of rainfall threatened to flood from South Carolina to Virginia.

Southwest Florida sheriffs said 911 centers were flooded by thousands of immobilized callers, some of them in life-threatening emergencies. According to DeSantis, the US Coast Guard began rescue operations hours before dawn on barrier islands near where Ian struck. There were also more than 800 members of federal city search and rescue teams in the area.

In the Orlando area, Orange County firefighters used boats to reach people in the flooded area. A photo of the department posted on Twitter showed one firefighter carrying someone in his arms through the water up to his knees. In a nearby nursing home, patients were carried on a stretcher by the flood to a waiting bus.

Among the survivors was Joseph Agboona. “We were happy to get out,” he said after acquiring two bags of belongings as the water rose to the windows of his Orlando home. “It was very, very bad.”

In Fort Myers, Valerie Bartley’s family had spent desperate hours holding the dining room table by the patio door, fearing that the raging storm outside was “tearing up our home.”

“I was terrified,” said Bartley. “What we heard was shingles and debris from everything in the neighborhood hitting our house.”

The storm tore off the patio screens and broke the palm tree in the yard, Bartley said, but left the roof intact and her family was not damaged.

In Fort Myers, some people have left the shelters to return home on Thursday afternoon. Long lines formed at gas stations and Home Depot opened, letting in several customers at the same time.

Frank Pino was close to the end of the line with about 100 people in front of him.

“I hope they leave something behind,” said Pino, “because I need almost everything.”

Authorities have confirmed at least one d*ath in Florida – a 72-year-old man in Delton who fell into a sewer while using a hose to drain a pool in heavy rain, Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said. Two other d*aths from storms have been reported in Cuba.

County Sheriff Lee Carmine Marceno said his office is trying to answer thousands of phone calls to 911 in the Fort Myers area, but many roads and bridges are impassable.

Rescue teams were cutting fallen trees to reach people. Many people in the worst-hit areas were unable to call for help due to electrical and cellular failures.

A piece of Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island, where 6,300 people live. It is unknown how many obeyed the evacuation order, but Charlotte County Crisis Management Director Patrick Fuller expressed cautious optimism.

No d*aths or injuries have been confirmed in the county, and the viaducts over the barrier islands show that “the integrity of the homes is much better than expected,” Fuller said.

South of the island of Sanibel, the historic pier on the beach of Naples has been destroyed, even piles have been torn out. “There is no pier at the moment,” said Penny Taylor, Collier County Commissioner.

In Port Charlotte, the hospital emergency department was flooded, and strong winds tore off part of the roof, sending water to the intensive care unit. The sickest patients – some using respirators – were crammed into the middle two floors as staff prepared for the arrival of the storm victims, according to Dr. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital.

Ian struck Florida with a wind speed of 150 mph (241 km / h) tied to the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the U.S.

While scientists generally avoid blaming climate change for specific storms without detailed analysis, Ian’s watery damage matches what scientists predicted for a warmer world: stronger and wetter hurricanes, but not necessarily more.

“This very, very heavy rain case is something we expected to see because of climate change,” said MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel. – We’ll see more storms like Ian.

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Associated Press contributors include Terry Spencer and Tim Reynolds of Fort Myers; Cody Jackson in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Bobby Caina Calvan in New York.

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