Hurricane Ian lashes southern Florida
Florida, Sep 30: Hurricane Ian brought high winds, heavy rains, storm surges and intense flooding to Florida on Wednesday, making landfall in the afternoon and moving inland through the evening.
It is heading towards South Carolina's coast and the city of Charleston, with predictions of flooding and storm surge. The whole state's coast is under a hurricane warning, with authorities advising people to seek higher ground.
The hurricane warning stretched from the Savannah River to Cape Fear, with flooding rains likely across the Carolinas and southwestern Virginia, the National Hurricane Center said.
With winds holding at 85 mph (140 kph), the center's update on Friday placed Ian about 175 miles (285 km) southeast of Charleston and forecast a "life-threatening storm surge" and hurricane conditions along the Carolina coastal area.
Footage from Fort Myers and nearby Naples showed major flooding, with floodwaters surging into homes and sweeping away vehicles.
Biden pledges federal help
"This storm is doing a number on the state of Florida," said Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who asked US President Joe Biden to approve a major federal disaster declaration providing a wide range of emergency aid to the entire state.
"We'll be there to help you clean up and rebuild, to help Florida get moving again," Biden said on Wednesday. "And we'll be there every step of the way. That's my absolute commitment to the people of Florida."
Upgraded overnight, downgraded after moving inland
According to the NHC, Ian had grown to an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 hurricane overnight, with winds up to 415 miles.
305 PM EDT 28 Sep -- Hurricane #Ian has made landfall as an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane near Cayo Costa, Florida with maximum sustained winds at 150 mph. The minimum pressure from Air Force Reconnaissance Hurricane Hunters was 940 mb.— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 28, 2022
Latest: https://t.co/tnOTyfORCw pic.twitter.com/O3agPDOZHk
Dozens of shelters were set up after authorities had issued mandatory evacuation orders for 2.5 million people across Florida.
However, by Wednesday, it was already too late to flee as conditions were rapidly deteriorating. Electricity had been severed for more than 1 million homes out of just over 11 million tracked customers in the state of Florida, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us.
Heading into Wednesday evening Ian's peak wind speeds started to drop and the hurricane downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday as it moved further inland.
According to NHC, it is expected to regain hurricane-like strength after emerging over Atlantic later in the day.
Migrant boat sinks
Shortly before Ian made landfall, a boat carrying migrants sank, leaving 23 people missing and four survivors.
Walter Slosar, Miami's chief patrol agent, said US authorities responded to a "migrant landing in Stock Island, Florida."
"Four Cuban migrants swam to shore after their vessel sank due to inclement weather," Slosar wrote on Twitter.
#BREAKING: U.S. Border Patrol agents along with support from @mcsonews responded to a migrant landing in Stock Island #Florida. 4 Cuban migrants swam to shore after their vessel sank due to inclement weather. @USCGSoutheast initiated a #SAR operation to search for 23 individuals. pic.twitter.com/yUurGfSOSe— Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar (@USBPChiefMIP) September 28, 2022
Hurricane intensified after hitting Cuba
National Weather Service director Ken Graham had said on approach that Ian would be "a storm we talk about for many years to come... It's a historic event."
DeSantis said thousands of personnel were assigned to respond to the storm with 250 aircraft, 300 boats and 1,600 high-water vehicles.
Hurricane Ian had battered Cuba as a Category 3 storm just less than 24 hours before nearing Florida.
Scientists have long sounded the alarm over how climate change can hike the intensity of extreme weather events.