A day after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida as a Category 4 storm, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that the storm surge that came with it was “basically a 500-year flood event.”
“We’ve never seen a flood event like this,” DeSantis said during a press briefing in Tallahassee. “We’ve never seen a storm surge of this magnitude.”
Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm as it cut across the state Thursday morning, but officials warned that the worst was not over.
More than 2.5 million people across the state were without power, as search and rescue teams and first responders assess the historic damage.
Large sections of the Sanibel Causeway, which connects the Sanibel Islands to the mainland, collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico.
DeSantis said the causeway, as well as Pine Island Bridge, are “impassable” and are going to require “structural” rebuilds.
Lee County, which includes Fort Myers, was particularly hard-hit.
On NBC’s “Today” show, Mayor Kevin Anderson, who has lived in the city since the 1970s, said Ian was “by far the worst storm” he’d ever seen.
And there were conflicting reports of fatalities.
On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said, “While I don’t have confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds.”
DeSantis, though, said that number was unconfirmed and based on the thousands of people who called to report rising in their homes.
Later on CNN, Marceno said that there were five confirmed deaths, and that “a couple thousand calls that came through 911.”
“We got crushed,” Marceno said.
The devastation was seen in other counties, too. In Port Charlotte, in Charlotte County, the storm ripped part of a roof off a hospital’s intensive care unit, forcing staff and patients to evacuate to other floors.
DeSantis said that he spoke early Thursday with President Biden, who formally issued a disaster declaration and reaffirmed his commitment to use all available federal resources to assist in rescue and recovery efforts.
Biden was scheduled to receive a briefing on the response efforts at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon.