Ian’s death toll keeps rising. Here’s the latest on the storm’s aftermath
A revived Hurricane Ian pounded coastal South Carolina on Friday before weakening Friday night, ripping apart piers and flooding streets after the ferocious storm caused catastrophic damage in Florida, trapping thousands in their homes and leaving at least 27 people dead so far. Another estimate doubled that to more than 50.
The powerful storm, estimated to be one of the costliest hurricanes ever to hit the U.S., has terrorized people for much of the week — pummeling western Cuba and raking across Florida before gathering strength in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean to curve back and strike South Carolina.
While Ian’s center came ashore near Georgetown, South Carolina, on Friday with much weaker winds than when it crossed Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week, the storm left many areas of Charleston’s downtown peninsula under water. It also washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two at Myrtle Beach.
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.
Many of the deaths reported so far are drownings, including that of a 68-year-old woman swept away into the ocean by a wave. A 67-year-old man who was waiting to be rescued died after falling into rising water inside his home, authorities said.
Ian is no longer a hurricane. The now-post tropical cyclone has brought heavy rains, flash flooding and high winds to the Carolinas since reaching the coast Friday afternoon.
As Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, the beach towns were the first to go as water and winds up to 150 mph decimated paradise towns from Fort Myers Beach to Punta Gorda — a city familiar with disaster, taking close to a decade to recover from 2004′s Hurricane Charley.
Houses were torn from foundations by water that acted as a conveyor belt. Personal belongings and building materials fused with wet earth.
But the wrecked beach towns marked only the beginning.
An hour northeast of Fort Myers, in rural inland communities like Arcadia, the extent of the damage began to reveal itself Friday.
Crews are beginning to repair — and in some cases, rebuild — Florida’s power grid. Eric Silagy, CEO of Florida Power & Light, said that Friday evening 850,000 of the utility’s customers who lost power in the storm remained without power, but 1.2 million had power restored during the day.
Before Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida’s southwest coast with 155 mph winds, it went through two separate bursts of so-called “rapid intensification” when a cyclone’s top wind speeds rise by 35 mph in a single day.
This process took Ian from tropical storm to Category 4 monster in 36 hours. It’s a dangerous phenomenon that climate change may make more common in future hurricane seasons.
“It’s too early to say exactly how climate change affected this one storm,” said Kieran Bhatia, a climate researcher at Princeton University who studies hurricanes. “But, on average, we’ve seen multiple studies that show the conditions in the North Atlantic basin are providing more opportunities for storms to intensify.”
The hurricane season has exploded, making up for its slow start. Purdue University’s Jhordanne Jones, a native of Jamaica whose research focuses on seasonal hurricane forecasting, joins our weather experts on the “Across the Sky” podcast to talk about why the season started slowly, why it’s picking up so rapidly now.