Thursday, 8 Dec 2022

Hurricane Ian ‘panic’ laid bare as Biden visits Florida

Hurricane Ian batters Punta Gorda in Florida

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Hurricane Ian triggered “panic mode” as it barrelled towards Florida, before causing damage which “looked like a bomb had gone off”, an eyewitness who saw events unfold first-hand has said. The monster storm, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 100 people, lashed the US state on September 28, with almost 400,00 homes and businesses still without power a week later.

US President Joe Biden travelled to Florida today to pledge support to help the state recover during a visit which included a meeting with Governor Ron DeSantis, a possible rival in the Presidential race in two years’ time.

However, a more pressing concern was the massive clean-up operation, said Floridian Melissa Bill.

The public relations account executive with PR firm Elkordy Global lives in Lehigh Acres, an unincorporated part of Lee County, right next to Fort Myers on the west coast of the state.

She said: “The days leading up to Hurricane Ian were filled with a lot of stress since people started to go into a panic mode once they heard a storm was coming our way.

“The shelves were stripped bare of water and gas days prior to the hurricane even hitting us.”

Ms Bill, 49, added: “Your first thought is about family members. My dad, who lived in a mobile home, was a concern. It’s scary because you really don’t know where the storm is going to hit.

“They said at first we were not going to take a direct hit in Lee County and then at the last minute the radio said it was going right over us.”

Describing the frightening experience of being at the centre of a hurricane packing winds of up to 150mph, she said: “The winds picked up pretty quickly and the trees around our home were getting belted for hours with high winds and rain.

“Branches flying off and other debris blowing past our home and shaking windows throughout a 12-hour span.

“The hurricane seemed to last forever, but then it was finally over. We lost power about half way through the storm.

“We also lost water, our internet and phone. We were unable to call or contact family members and friends to see if they were safe for about a day or two after the hurricane. You feel pretty isolated at that point.”

Ms Bill’s father Lawrence, 70, lives in a zone which was evacuated at the last minute.

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It literally looked like a bomb went off in some places

Melissa Bill

Ms Bill said: “He came to stay with us during the storm, but his mobile home was destroyed. He will need to stay with family until FEMA or other agencies can help him afford to rebuild.

“The damage done in areas less impacted might take five to six months or more to repair, but places like Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel are completely wiped off the map. Those areas are going to take years to be rebuilt and will never be the same.

“I grew up here, so it’s heartbreaking to see this kind of damage and people’s lives ruined. It literally looked like a bomb went off in some places.”

She stressed: “The loss of life is the most significant part of this type of event. They say it’s around 100, but there are still places that rescue crews have not gotten to yet. That’s the worrisome part. We still don’t know for sure.

“Hurricane Ian was definitely the strongest storm I’ve ever witnessed, but our area also went through hurricane Irma about five years ago, which caused a lot of damage especially where we live in Lehigh Acres.

“Our government did a good job trying to get us prepared. They evacuated as soon as they knew that area was in the storm’s path and at risk.

“Following the hurricane, gas was brought in pretty quickly, but we are now experiencing food shortages.”

Looking to the future, Ms Bill added: “I think it’s really out of our hands where these storms will make a direct hit.

“Unfortunately, we are likely to see more strong storms in our future. Hopefully not of this calibre.”

Emergency crews have so far made cursory inspections of about 45,000 properties since Hurricane Ian flooded seaside communities with high surf which washed away numerous buildings, Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida’s emergency management, said during a morning briefing today.

He said: “We’ve been to about every address. “We believe that we have searched everything very quickly. Now we are going back for a second look.”

He added: “I am not saying we are not going to find anybody else. We may find other people.”

At least 103 US storm-related deaths have been confirmed. Florida accounted for the bulk of fatalities, with 78 tallied by the sheriff’s offices in the adjoining coastal jurisdictions of Lee and Charlotte counties, which bore the brunt of the storm at landfall, and 21 more deaths reported by state officials from nine other counties.

North Carolina authorities have said at least four people were killed there.

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