Devastation and despair: Watch Hurricane Ian damage city after city across Florida

Florida Hurricane

Devastation and despair: Watch Hurricane Ian damage city after city across Florida

Monster-sized Hurricane Ian hit the state Wednesday with a crushing storm, blurring wind speeds and torrential rain, leaving a swathe of devastation from the southwest coast through the I-4 corridor.

The hurricane, the fifth most powerful hurricane to ever hit the United States, left countless homes and businesses smashed or underwater and nearly 2.7 million people without power.

Less than 24 hours after Ian made landfall near Cayo Costa west of Fort Myers, dramatic search and rescue efforts — some by helicopter and boat — were still underway.

"Fort Myers is devastated," tweeted Dylan Federico, a meteorologist for WINK News. "Strong, hurricane-resistant infrastructure is in disarray. There is no electricity, no water. It is unlivable. Wind damage is much worse than I saw after Irma, Ida, Harvey, or Katrina."

The death toll in Florida continued to rise. The New York Times reported Friday that officials had identified at least thirty deaths likely related to the storm.

There are at least 35 confirmed deaths in the county, Carmen Marcino, the Lee County Sheriff, who initially put the death toll in the hundreds, said. An elected official also reported that six people were killed in Charlotte County. In Volusia County, a 72-year-old man died after venturing outside to drain his swimming pool.

Governor Ron DeSantis reported Thursday morning that only two unconfirmed deaths were linked to the storm, though he said more "clarity" would come over time.

"The damage done is historic," DeSantis said. "We have never experienced a flood like this before. We have never seen a storm surge of this magnitude."

Fort Myers: Hardly anything left

In Lee County, the damage was so extensive, and conditions on the ground were so treacherous that local officials made the agonizing decision to wait before attempting rescue operations.

Lee County officials said "several calls" from people stranded by rising waters as flooding moved from the coast to inland points.

"Families have been left to suffer knowing their loved ones are clinging to life in areas where rescue crews cannot reach because it is too dangerous to save them," Lee County Superintendent Roger Degarlaes added.

Fort Myers Beach emergency officials told the Tampa Bay Times that not everyone followed evacuation orders and expected to find bodies while searching through the rubble.

"Absolute devastation," Fire Marshall Jennifer Campbell said. "There is hardly anything left."

DeSantis said the bridge to Sanibel Island and the Pine Island Bridge have become impassable and need structural repairs.

After touring Charlotte and Lee counties, the governor remarked that "Sanibel wrecked" and was attacked by a "really a biblical storm."

Fort Myers Beach and the other barrier islands in Lee County suffered the brunt of Hurricane Ian's attack on the Florida coast. Its mall was destroyed and marketed as one of the city's most popular areas.

From the Strike Zone: Fort Myers Beach Gold: Waterfront workers recount the devastation of Hurricane Ian

"7-Eleven is gone. The whale is gone. All restaurants are gone," resident Mitch Stuff told The Fort Myers News-Press. "Times Square is completely gone. It is flat. "

In Bonita Springs, some structures were flattened by a storm surge, including Doc's Beach House.

Charlie Cibula, the owner's son, said the walls of Doc's Beach House collapsed when the storm subsided, and he told his father had owned it since 1987.

Nearby, his father was navigating the wreckage of the restaurant's first floor, standing at the entrance. There were no walls surrounding the door frame.

"We'll take him back to work," said the father.

The Doc's Beach House has also suffered from a propane leak, and Lee County sheriffs have been holding residents back, urging them to stay away and safe. Gas smell was flying in the air, and there were noticeable clumps out.

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