The tragic death toll from Hurricane Ian’s historic assault on Florida is expected to soon surpass 50, officials said late Saturday morning.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, who oversees flood-ravaged Fort Myers, said the number of confirmed deaths reached 35 in his jurisdiction alone.
With assistance pouring in from around the state and country, Marceno said more than 600 stranded survivors were rescued from their homes so far.
The sheriff said his agency is fielding desperate inquiries from relatives of the missing and that officials are scrambling to provide information as quickly as possible.
Sporadic reports of storm-related deaths continue to trickle in from across the Sunshine State, and authorities said the toll will continue to climb as recovery efforts progress.
Rescue crews are going door-to-door in hard-hit regions, including battered islands that are largely cut off from the mainland.
Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson told NBC’s Today Show Saturday morning that emergency units are transporting many of the stranded by boat.
Airborne rescuers are hovering over wrecked areas in Sanibel Island and Captiva to scan for anyone waving from their roofs, McPherson said.
With more than 1.3 million Floridians without power, many who need assistance still have no means of communication to request help.
“The good news is that we saw fewer cases of people who were in need of immediate medical assistance and more people who were just stranded,” McPherson said.
Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith said that Ian’s bludgeoning left her once idyllic island uninhabitable.
“We are informing the residents that this is a long term recovery process,” she told Fox. “This is not a place that is habitable at this time and likely won’t be for a while.”
Shellshocked residents who evacuated their homes returned to scenes of apocalyptic ruin in many areas, and attempted to salvage whatever possessions they could.
President Biden tweeted Saturday morning that the storm wreaked historic damage.
“We’re beginning to see the scale of the devastation in Florida which is likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” he wrote. “Our hearts break for the folks whose lives have been devastated by this storm. We are with you. And we’ll stay at it for as long as it takes.”
Florida Gov Ron DeSantis has been traversing the state to assess the storm’s damage and is scheduled to hold a press conference from Fort Myers later Saturday.