NEWS: Hurricane Ian: Florida death toll rises, criticism mounts

About 100 people have died in Florida from Hurricane Ian, and rescuers are still searching for survivors

About 100 peo­ple have died in Flori­da from Hur­ri­cane Ian, and res­cuers are still search­ing for survivors.

In the Unit­ed States, state offi­cials have been crit­i­cized for not giv­ing enough notice to res­i­dents of the worst-hit areas to evacuate.

More than half of the fatal­i­ties were record­ed in Lee Coun­ty, where Ian made land­fall as a Cat­e­go­ry 4 hurricane.

Pres­i­dent Joe Biden is sched­uled to vis­it Flori­da on Wednesday.

On Mon­day, Ian vis­it­ed Puer­to Rico, which was hit by Hur­ri­cane Fiona just days before it land­ed in Flori­da, pledg­ing $60 mil­lion in aid to U.S. territory.

Ponce is still with­out pow­er in some areas, and he said he will “make sure you get every sin­gle dol­lar we promised.”

At least 99 peo­ple were killed by the hur­ri­cane in Flori­da as of Mon­day night, accord­ing to the BBC’s US net­work part­ner CBS. Four oth­er deaths have been con­firmed in North Carolina.

The lat­est death toll is at least 68, accord­ing to Flori­da offi­cials. The fig­ures dif­fer because local author­i­ties report­ed more storm-relat­ed deaths, while coro­ners con­duct­ed autop­sies and attrib­uted only one death to the hurricane.

Most of the 54 deaths were report­ed in Lee Coun­ty, which includes Fort Myers, Sani­bel and Pine Island, the hard­est-hit areas, Sher­iff Carmine Marceno said at a news conference.

Access to the Fort Myers beach area has been restrict­ed for author­i­ties to inves­ti­gate dead bod­ies and pre­serve crime scenes, Marceno said. He added that there was also a loot­ing inci­dent and sev­er­al peo­ple were arrested.

Flori­da Gov. Ron DeSan­tis on Fri­day described the coun­ty as hur­ri­cane “ground zero.”

Con­fu­sion over death tolls is com­mon in the imme­di­ate after­math of a hur­ri­cane. In 2020, for exam­ple, few­er than 20 deaths were report­ed days after Hur­ri­cane Lau­ra made land­fall in Louisiana, but the Nation­al Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter lat­er revised that fig­ure to 47.

Hur­ri­cane Ian’s death toll is already one of the most mem­o­rable hur­ri­canes in recent mem­o­ry, but it’s still low com­pared to 2005’s Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na, which killed more than 1,800 people.

In the after­math of the storm, Lee Coun­ty offi­cials are fac­ing ques­tions about the tim­ing of the evac­u­a­tion order, which was issued on Sept. 27, 24 hours before Ian’s land­ing. Oth­er coun­ties in the hur­ri­cane’s path issued their own evac­u­a­tion orders early.

Local offi­cials and Flori­da Gov­er­nor Ron DeSan­tis have defend­ed Lee Coun­ty’s hur­ri­cane preparedness.

“Every­body wants to look at the plan that could have been done dif­fer­ent­ly,” Marceno said on Sun­day. “I agree 100% with the coun­ty com­mis­sion­er and the coun­ty admin­is­tra­tor. At the same time, I did what I need­ed to do. I did­n’t change anything.”

A 2015 plan­ning doc­u­ment on the Lee Coun­ty gov­ern­men­t’s offi­cial web­site not­ed that “due to its large pop­u­la­tion and lim­it­ed sys­tems, South­west Flori­da is the most dif­fi­cult place in the nation to evac­u­ate in the event of a dis­as­ter” It has been. 

The doc­u­ment adds that the evac­u­a­tion deci­sion-mak­ing process con­sid­ers “the risks of evac­u­a­tion, the impact on the lives of res­i­dents and vis­i­tors, the busi­ness and the poten­tial mag­ni­tude of the immi­nent threat.”

The death toll released by Flori­da offi­cials does not include at least 16 Cuban migrants who are still miss­ing after their boat cap­sized off the coast of Florida. 

Of the 27 crew mem­bers, nine were res­cued by the Unit­ed States Coast Guard and two man­aged to swim to Stock Island near Key West. The Japan Coast Guard is still sus­pend­ing the search for miss­ing persons.

About 451,000 homes and busi­ness­es statewide are still with­out pow­er, accord­ing to Poweroutage.us.

Flori­da Pow­er & Light, the util­i­ty with the most black­outs, said most cus­tomers had pow­er restored by Oct. 7, but some prop­er­ties “can­not safe­ly receive pow­er” due to storm damage.

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