Hurricane Ian Leaves Behind "Historic" Damage as it Departs Florida

Flooding damage in the Fort Myers area (USCG)

Published Sep 29, 2022 7:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

First responders in Florida are just beginning to assess the toll from Hurricane Ian, which came ashore near Fort Myers on Wednesday as a high-Category 4 storm. At least nine people have been reported dead, and the sheriff for the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area has warned that there are indications that hundreds of lives may have been lost. 

"This could be the deadliest storm in Florida history. The numbers we have are still unclear, but we're hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life," President Joe Biden said in a press conference Thursday. 

Ian ranks among the most powerful storms to ever arrive on Florida's shores. Tide gauges at Naples and Fort Myers recorded record-setting storm surge in excess of seven feet, and wind speeds at Cape Coral were recorded at about 140 mph. At the storm's peak intensity before landfall, its sustained wind speeds were estimated at about 155 mph. Rare 1-in-1,000-year extreme rainfall events were recorded in the towns of Placida and Lake Wales, which received 15 and 17 inches in 12 hours, respectively. 

Official accounts of SAR activity are just beginning to come in, but U.S. Coast Guard Southeast reports that 39 people have been rescued by USCG crews so far. One Coast Guard helicopter aircrew interviewed by the Washington Post said that they had rescued seven people in four distress calls overnight Wednesday, including two boaters who had been caught out by the hurricane while kayaking. 

Over 500 people have been rescued by all agencies in the western Charlotte and Lee County areas since Thursday morning, according to Florida's Division of Emergency Management. A second wave of water rescue operations are reportedly under way in areas of the central east coast of Florida, where a combination of heavy rainfall and storm surge have led to higher-than-expected flooding. About 350 people have been rescued in the Orlando area, which received about 14 inches of rain. 

At ports around the area, responders are working to verify the status of ATON and make sure that it is safe to resume navigation. At the Ports of Key West, local bar pilots are contributing to the survey with visual inspections - a role which pilots often assist with in post-storm recovery. 

Hurricane Ian regained hurricane strength on Thursday as it headed north over the Atlantic, bound for South Carolina. It is on track to come ashore again near Charleston midday on Friday with winds of about 80 mph. A hurricane warning is in effect for all of South Carolina's coastline, and a storm surge warning for at least four feet of rise extends along the coasts of northern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.