TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The U.S. Coast Guard began performing hurricane rescue missions on barrier islands off southwest Florida early Thursday, as soon as the winds died down, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference.
“The Coast Guard had people who were in their attics and got saved off their rooftops,” DeSantis said. The most vulnerable areas were along the barrier islands of Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties, along with inlets and inland areas along rivers.
Power failures from Hurricane Ian are significant, he said. Two counties, Lee and Charlotte, “are basically off the grid at this point,” the governor said, and will likely have to rebuild the power structure.
“We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude,” DeSantis said. “The amount of water that’s been rising, and will likely continue to rise today even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500-year flooding event.”
An earlier report of hundreds of deaths in Lee County has not been confirmed and was likely an estimate based on 911 calls, the governor said.
DeSantis said he will ask the federal government to expand its emergency declaration to cover counties in central Florida that are also reporting damage.