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Florida, on an “emotional roller coaster” following the passage of Hurricane Ian as the death toll rises

(CNN) — Days after Hurricane Ian tore through Florida, destroying neighborhoods and turning streets into rivers, rescue teams searching for survivors are reporting more deaths as recovery efforts continue.

Authorities have confirmed that Ian killed at least 76 people in Florida after it made landfall as a Category 4 storm last week, destroying coastal towns, flooding homes, collapsing roofs, launching boats into buildings and floating cars has. Four other people died in storm-related incidents as Ian moved deeper into North Carolina.

More than 1,600 people have been rescued from the path of Hurricane Ian in parts of southwest and central Florida since last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said Sunday.

Now, with the return of blue skies, Floridians who sheltered as the hurricane raged have come out to find unrecognizable communities and face the daunting task of rebuilding, many still without power or running water.

According to PowerOutage.us, more than 628,000 homes, businesses and other customers in Florida were still without power as of Sunday evening. Many are without drinking water, with more than 100 boil water advisories in place across the state, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

In Naples, Hank DeWolf’s 4,000-pound pier was swept through an apartment complex by the powerful hurricane, landing in his neighbor’s yard. And the water washed someone’s car into their own yard. He doesn’t know who it belongs to or how to remove it.

As Naples crews comb through the wreckage to make sure no one is trapped, residents are experiencing an “emotional roller coaster” as they grapple with the daunting task ahead of cleaning up and restoring the city, said Jay Boodheshwar, administrator of the city, said. from Naples to CNN.

“People need to look after their emotional and mental health because we’re really going to have to work together on this,” Boodheshwar admitted.

Naples experienced a record storm surge when the hurricane caused rising seawater to flood the city’s streets and destroy its infrastructure.

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“The amount of water we received and the height of the storm surge affected a lot of the infrastructure,” Boodheshwar explained. “So there are transformers that are fried. It’s not just about rehanging lines. There are things that may need to be replaced.”

Similar scenes are playing out in other communities. Hurricane Ian — expected to be the costliest storm in Florida history — devastated neighborhoods from the state’s west coast to inland cities like Orlando.

In some cases, emergency workers searching for signs of life face the loss of their own homes at the same time.

Teen saves cat amid Hurricane Ian 1:46

“Some of those on Pine Island have lost everything, but they’re doing what they can,” says Dr. Ben Abo, an emergency physician, who was preparing to join first responders on a rescue mission Sunday near the destroyed Sanibel Island and Pine Island.

And the floods are not over yet.

Seminole County continues to experience significant flooding in some neighborhoods, with families being rescued from mid-deep water over the weekend.

Johns, Lake Monroe and Lake Harney, and 100 other homes were damaged by floodwaters in the past 24 hours, Seminole County emergency management officials told CNN affiliate WESH.

FEMA alone cannot rebuild and provide relief to all communities affected by Hurricane Ian, former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told CNN on Sunday. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD, can provide grants to communities affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters to help people get back on their feet, Fugate added.

“It’s not just the Florida coast that’s been affected. We have impacts all the way through Orlando, all along the East Coast. Places like St. Augustine have had devastating flooding,” Fugate said.

Sanibel Island is ‘out of action’

Hurricane Ian washed away portions of the Sanibel Causeway, which connects Sanibel Island to the mainland, leaving residents stranded as the only link became impassable.

Response teams searched properties door-to-door for anyone who might need to be evacuated.

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About 400 people were evacuated from Sanibel Island over the weekend, City Manager Dana Souza said Sunday night, adding that authorities will begin focusing their attention on providing medical services to people who decide to stay on the island, instead of evacuations.

Abo told CNN he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the death toll rises significantly as rescue and recovery efforts continue on Sanibel Island.

A man stands in front of a house damaged by storm surge in the wake of Hurricane Ian in Naples, Florida.

US Coast Guard Commander Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson offered a stark assessment of the damage on Sanibel Island.

“That area is going to be out of business for quite some time,” McPherson said. “It’s been hit very hard, it doesn’t have water, it doesn’t have basic infrastructure.”

Amy Lynn was at her friend’s house on Sanibel Island when the hurricane struck, forcing her to hide in a closet with seven dogs, praying and holding the door shut as the hurricane raged outside.

When he left, the house was badly damaged, with the walls blown out, the video shows.

“I prayed for six hours straight and came to the conclusion that maybe it was my time to go. It wasn’t. God is good. We made it out alive,” Lynn wrote on Facebook. “We lost everything. My car is gone. I haven’t seen my house on Sanibel, they tell me it’s destroyed.”

Lynn said she was grateful to be alive but wrote: “This is beyond devastating. The heart of the Swfl coast has been changed forever.”

Questions about timing of evacuation orders as deaths rise
Many of the deaths linked to Ian — 42 deaths — were recorded in Southwest Florida’s Lee County, which includes Fort Myers and Sanibel Island.

Lee County officials have faced criticism over why the first mandatory evacuations were not ordered until a day before Ian’s landfall, despite an emergency plan suggesting the evacuations should have happened earlier.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Lee County officials acted appropriately when they issued their first mandatory evacuations Tuesday, less than 24 hours before Hurricane Ian made landfall in the state and a day after several neighboring counties issued orders.

Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane also defended the timing of the orders, calling reports of a possible delay in issuing a mandatory evacuation “inaccurate.”

“As soon as we saw the pattern shift to the northeast, we did exactly what we could to encourage people to evacuate,” Ruane said on Sunday.

Ruane added that people had become “complacent” and many did not evacuate to shelters.

“I think the biggest thing that most people need to understand is that we opened 15 shelters. During Irma, there were 60,000 people in our shelters. Right now, there are 4,000 people in the shelters,” Ruane said.

In addition to the 42 deaths in Lee County, Hurricane Ian also contributed to the deaths of 12 people in Charlotte County, eight in Collier County, five in Volusia County, three in Sarasota County, two in Manatee County and one each in Polk, Lake, Hendry and Hillsborough counties, officials said.

Power outages can last for weeks

About 65% of all power outages in Florida from the storm had been restored by early Sunday, according to PowerOutage.us.

But some residents and businesses in storm-damaged counties may not have access to the power grid for “weeks or months” because of structural damage from the hurricane, said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light Company.

In Cape Coral, just southwest of Fort Myers, 98% of the city’s electrical structure was “wiped out” and will require a complete rebuild, Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Management Ryan Lamb told CNN’s Jim Acosta.

Florida is also working with Elon Musk and the Starlink satellite to help restore communications in the state, according to DeSantis. “They are positioning those Starlink satellites to provide good coverage in Southwest Florida and other affected areas,” DeSantis said.

CNN’s Michelle Watson, Aaron Pellish, Sonnet Swire and Andy Rose contributed to this report.

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