By MEG KINNARD and ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A revived Hurricane Ian made landfall on coastal South Carolina on Friday, threatening the historic city of Charleston with severe flooding after the deadly storm caused catastrophic damage in Florida and trapped thousands in their homes.
Ian’s center came ashore near Georgetown with much weaker winds than when it crossed Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday as one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S.
Sheets of rain whipped trees and power lines and left many areas on Charleston’s downtown peninsula under water. Sections of piers at North Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island collapsed into the churning waves and washed away.
Ian left a broad swath of destruction in Florida, flooding areas on both of its coasts, tearing homes from their slabs, demolishing beachfront businesses and leaving more than 2 million people without power. At least nine people were confirmed dead in the U.S. — a number that was expected to increase as officials confirm more deaths and search for people.
Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through riverine streets Thursday to save thousands of people trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings .
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that crews had gone door-to-door to over 3,000 homes in the hardest-hit areas.
“There’s really been a Herculean effort,” he said during a news conference in Tallahassee.
Among those killed were an 80-year-old woman and a 94-year-old man who relied on oxygen machines that stopped working amid power outages, as well as a a 67-year-old man who was waiting to be rescued died after falling into rising water inside his home, authorities said.
Officials fear the death toll could rise substantially, given the wide territory swamped by the storm.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said responders have focused so far on “hasty” searches, aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, which will be followed by two additional waves of searches. Initial responders who come across possible remains are leaving them without confirming, he said Friday, describing as an example the case of a submerged home.
“The water was up over the rooftop, right, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many,” Guthrie said.
Climate change added at least 10% more rain to Hurricane Ian, according to a study prepared immediately after the storm, said its co-author, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab climate scientist Michael Wehner.
Orlando residents returned to flooded homes Friday, rolling up their pants to wade through muddy, knee-high water in their streets. Friends of Ramon Rodriguez dropped off ice, bottled water and hot coffee at the entrance to his subdivision, where 10 of the 50 homes were flooded and the road looked like a lake. He had no power or food at his house, and his car was trapped by the water.
“There’s water everywhere,” Rodriguez said. “The situation here is pretty bad.”
University of Central Florida students living at an apartment complex near the Orlando campus arrived to retrieve possessions from their waterlogged units.
Deandra Smith, a nursing student, was asleep when others evacuated and stayed in her third-floor apartment with her dog. Other students helped get her to dry land Friday by pushing her through the flooded parking lot on a pontoon. She wasn’t sure if she should go back to her parents home in South Florida or find a shelter so she can still attend classes. “I’m still trying to figure it out,” she said.
Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained strength Thursday evening over the Atlantic. Ian made landfall in South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph). When it hit Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, it was a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph (240 kph).
After the heaviest of the rainfall blew through Charleston, Will Shalosky was checking out a large elm tree in front of his house that had fallen across his downtown street. He noted the damage could have been much worse.
“If this tree has fallen a different way, it would be in our house,” Shalosky said. “It’s pretty scary, pretty jarring.”
In Washington, President Joe Biden said he was directing “every possible action be taken to save lives and get help to survivors.”
“It’s going to take months, years to rebuild,” Biden said.
“I just want the people of Florida to know, we see what you’re going through and we’re with you.”
Gomez Licon reported from Punta Gorda, Florida; Associated Press contributors include Terry Spencer and Tim Reynolds in Fort Myers, Florida; Cody Jackson in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Bobby Caina Calvan in New York.