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Hurricane Ian: Palm Beach County avoided the worst; Southwest Florida's lives were upended

The Palm Beach Post 9/29/2022 Katherine Kokal, Palm Beach Post

While Palm Beach County prepared to return to normal Thursday, much of Florida struggled to recover from what could prove to be the most deadly and devastating storm in state history.

Officials blamed Hurricane Ian, which finally exited the state Thursday, for at least a dozen fatalities. Millions remained without power in the wake of the storm that made landfall in the Fort Myers area Wednesday as property damage, sure to be in the many billions of dollars worth, remained incalculable.

Those losses will include the destruction at the Kings Point condominium complex in Delray Beach. A tornado spawned by Ian's outer bands Tuesday evening damaged numerous units, leaving about 1,000 people without a home.

Two minutes of terror at Kings Point: Tornado leaves many in 55+ community west of Delray homeless

Maps and charts show extent of Hurricane Ian's destructive path across Florida — and what you can expect next

Tropical Storm Ian live updates Thursday: News around the state, Palm Beach County's forecast

Even so, across the Palm Beaches, residents prepared to resume their routines. Palm Beach County schools were set to reopen Friday, as well as most businesses and local government operations.

That was not the same throughout Southwest Florida, or the Interstate 4 corridor from Orlando to Daytona Beach, which was Ian's path of destruction.

Here is a roundup from across the state.

Wide destruction: 'Biggest catastrophe I have ever seen in my lifetime'

Information trickled out Thursday about those who lost their lives as Ian moved through the state. 

Charlotte County Commissioner Chris Constance told CNN Thursday afternoon that there had been six confirmed fatalities in the county. Many roads in the county were impassable because of downed power lines or flooding, he said. 

Four shelters had to be evacuated because of structural damage.

Palm Beach County schools to reopen Friday after threat of Hurricane Ian passes

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“It is the biggest catastrophe I have ever seen in my lifetime,” said Constance, speaking from Broward County where he traveled ahead of the storm. “This is unprecedented and I was in Punta Gorda through Hurricane Charley. While that was devastating this is so much bigger, is affecting so many more people.”  

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said on CNN that at least five deaths have been confirmed in his county.

And a 72-year-old man in Deltona died after falling into a canal while using a hose to drain his pool in the heavy rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said.

Fort Myers area: "You are looking at a storm that has changed the character of a significant part of our state"

Gov. Ron DeSantis said people were saved off their rooftops after storm surge flooding washed over barrier islands and drove deep inland, funneling up the Caloosahatchee and Peace Rivers in Lee and Charlotte counties. 

DeSantis said the Sanibel and Pine Island causeways in Lee County were impassable, and that restoring electricity to Southwest Florida will mean "rebuilding infrastructure." 

"You are looking at a storm that has changed the character of a significant part of our state," DeSantis said. "This will require emergency response now and days and weeks ahead. This will require years of effort to rebuild and be able to come back."

Florida Power & Light to use fleet of drones to assess Hurricane Ian damages across Southwest Florida

DeSantis called Ian a "500-year flooding event" and said Coast Guard helicopters were plucking trapped residents from the roofs of homes. Communities across the state were or will be swamped by the overwhelming waters, he said.  

More than 100 engineers in pairs of two will work to assess the bridges along the west coast of Florida, DeSantis said. He said resources are currently heading to Southwest Florida including two-dozen helicopters, scores of boats, 100 portable cell towers and 300 truckloads of food and water.

Vehicles sit in floodwaters on the side of Interstate 75 in North Port, Fla., following Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Steve Helber, AP Vehicles sit in floodwaters on the side of Interstate 75 in North Port, Fla., following Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Lee County sheriff says that fatalities could be in the hundreds

Rescuers will go door-to-door on barrier islands and other low-lying areas prone to flooding. 

"The damage done is historic," DeSantis said. "This is just from initial assessments. We have never seen a flood event like this. We have never seen storm surge of this magnitude. There's going to be a lot of work to do."

In an interview on "Good Morning America" Thursday morning, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said that the number of deaths from Ian could reach into the hundreds.

"So while I don't have confirmed numbers, I definitely know fatalities are in the hundreds," Marceno said. "There are thousands of people that are waiting to be rescued.

DeSantis said those reports are not confirmed. It may have been an estimate given based on the number of 911 calls that came from people saying the water was rising in their homes and were trying to get to higher ground. 

"I think you'll have more clarity about that as they are able to go to those locations," DeSantis said.

Damage to King's Point condos from possible tornado from Hurricane Ian on September 28, 2022. © GREG LOVETT/THE PALM BEACH POST Damage to King's Point condos from possible tornado from Hurricane Ian on September 28, 2022.

Bonita Springs businesses take direct hits; some may return, others ...

In Bonita Springs, some structures had been flattened by the storm surge, including Doc's Beach House.

The walls on the restaurant caved in when the storm surge went back out, said Charlie Cibula, the owner’s son, who said his father has owned it since 1987.

Nearby, his father picked through the wreckage of the restaurant's first floor, standing in the doorway. There were no walls surrounding the door frame.

“We’ll get it back up and running,” the father said.

Jason Crosser, who owns 8-Bit Hall of Fame, a classic video game store on Bonita Beach Road Southwest near the curve, lost everything.

He and his wife, Erica, perched outside their shop on the empty windowsills, a cutout of Hulk Hogan next to them. Crosser said he knew Wednesday afternoon that his shop had been lost, when a local news channel showed a photo of the building where his shop was located. In the photo, his shop was already halfway submerged, he said.

Crosser's eyes were rimmed with red, and he could barely keep from crying. He's lived here for 16 years, and pumped every dollar back into his shop that he could, he said. It was a labor of love.

"We don't know what to do first," he said. He used to be a history teacher, he added, and said he might just move on.

"I might go back to Iowa and teach."

Sarasota area: Local landmark theatre in Venice is devastated 

Bob and Mary Kuziel walked through downtown Venice, about 20 miles south of Sarasota, searching for cell or internet Thursday morning.

The Venice residents weathered the storm in their condo on the ground floor of the nine-story Costa Brava condo building.

Bob Kuziel said they watched the rain come in sideways over Roberts Bay.

"We're trying to get in touch with people to let them know we are okay," Mary Kuziel said.

Authorities transport a person out of the Avante nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. Hurricane Ian carved a path of destruction across Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, cutting off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroying a historic waterfront pier and knocking out power to 2.5 million people as it dumped rain over a huge area on Thursday. (AP Photo/John Raoux) © John Raoux, AP Authorities transport a person out of the Avante nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. Hurricane Ian carved a path of destruction across Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, cutting off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroying a historic waterfront pier and knocking out power to 2.5 million people as it dumped rain over a huge area on Thursday. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Instead, they found Venice Theatre devastated by Hurricane Ian. The near-Category 5 storm had ripped through the local landmark just over the north bridge to the island of Venice.

Venice Municipal Airport, about half-mile from a mobile home park, had severe damage to several hangers.

"I lost two planes," Andre Ghawi said. "They were in the hanger. The hanger doesn't exist anymore. You don't figure on something like this happening."

Port St. John Boat Ramp in Brevard County being hit by rain and wind bands from Hurricane Ian on Wednesday, as the Indian River reached high levels at the Port St. John Boat Ramp © TIM SHORTT/ FLORIDA TODAY Port St. John Boat Ramp in Brevard County being hit by rain and wind bands from Hurricane Ian on Wednesday, as the Indian River reached high levels at the Port St. John Boat Ramp

In North Port, residents were not prepared for the massive flooding

Elizabeth Hayes, 35, watched the entirety of Hurricane Ian pass over her North Port home through a peephole in her shutters, but the longtime resident was not prepared for the devastating flooding that would inundate the community.

“We’ve seen it flood, we’ve boated in and out before, but this is devastating,” Hayes said. “It’s up to my ankles, but it’s still rising. This area takes rain from the center of the state, so it’s going to still keep on flooding.”

Hayes, 35, just across the Myakkahatchee Creek about 35 miles southeast of Sarasota. She hunkered down in her home with her husband, three daughters, and three of his relatives. 

"We lost power two nights ago. Everything was fine, but we started to realize the water levels had started rising," she said. “Our sheds, you can only see the roof, everything else is under water. Right now we are getting everything we can out.”

Phipps Ocean Park is closed to the public as rain from Hurricane Ian fills the parking lot Florida September 28, 2022 in Palm Beach. © Meghan McCarthy / The Palm Beach Daily News Phipps Ocean Park is closed to the public as rain from Hurricane Ian fills the parking lot Florida September 28, 2022 in Palm Beach.

Tampa area: Even one of the lowest-lying neighborhoods avoids worst 

After thousands of people evacuated St. Petersburg earlier this week preparing for life-threatening storm surge, residents awoke Thursday to minimal damage.

Police directed traffic at intersections with broken traffic lights. Some trees had fallen, blocking roadways and taking down power lines. In Coquina Key, an island community south of downtown, a Norfolk Island pine had snapped in half, its branches scattered in a yard. 

Nearby, Dale Fredrick used a chainsaw to cut branches of another downed tree blocking a roadway.

“It won’t take long,” Fredrick, 58, said. “Just little by little.”

One of the city’s lowest-lying neighborhoods, Shore Acres, escaped flooding that poured into homes two years ago during Tropical Storm Eta.

Across Pinellas County, which also includes Clearwater and a swath of smaller cities, thousands were still without power.

Duke Energy reported 173,000 outages Thursday morning.

Hurricane Ian forecasts 5 a.m. Sept. 27, 2022. © GRAPHIC CONTRIBUTED BY ACCUWEATHER Hurricane Ian forecasts 5 a.m. Sept. 27, 2022.

Elsewhere in Ian's path ...

As the former Hurricane Ian's gusts were lashing Musa Rukab's beachside home in Melbourne, he was startled to hear a loud kaboom — and sections of his metal roof started peeling off and fluttering in the darkness.

"It sounded like a plane crash on the back of our roof all night long," Rukab said Thursday morning, standing amid twisted strips of roofing scattered across his front yard.

"Just the metal banging up and down, the whole house shuddering — the entire night — until 6:30 this morning," Rukab said.

"Terrifying," added his wife, Rula.

The couple has lived in their two-story home the past 11 years on Brookside Drive in beachside Melbourne, three housing lots away from the Indian River Lagoon.

The Naples Daily News, Fort Myers Press-Democrat, Tallahassee Democrat, Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Gannett-Florida Network contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Hurricane Ian: Palm Beach County avoided the worst; Southwest Florida's lives were upended

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