After a massive hurricane carved a wide trail of damage in Florida, twenty-one people were killed, with the death toll anticipated to grow.
A jumble of destroyed boats on Fort Myers Beach after the hurricane. Credit : Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images
South Carolina's coastal communities were braced on Friday for a direct hit from Hurricane Ian, the devastating mega-storm that carved a wide swath of damage on its previous rampage across Florida.
The historic city of Charleston appeared to be bearing the brunt of Ian's wrath after the storm developed overnight in the Atlantic, threatening a large inland area.
However, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami warned of a "life-threatening" storm surge and hurricane force winds from North Carolina to the north east Florida shore.
Meanwhile, in Florida, the death toll from the hurricane, which hit the state on Wednesday with 150 mph gusts and a storm surge of up to 18ft (5.5m), had increased to at least 21 by Friday morning, but was anticipated to rise higher, according to Kevin Guthrie, the state's director of emergency management.
Officials worry Irma will be the worst natural catastrophe in Florida's history, despite the state's history of being battered by deadly storms on a regular basis.
Rescue workers have reached 3,000 destroyed or flooded houses, Florida's governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Friday morning, while over two million were without electricity, and there was no running water in Lee county, where Ian made landfall near Fort Myers.
According to one local, parts of south-west Florida appeared to have been hit by an atomic bomb. DeSantis called Fort Myers Beach "ground zero" for the devastation, describing wide swaths of crushed structures and boats flung into heaps, stuck high up between residences, or floating through flooded streets.
Many of those who fled have lost everything except their lives, and officials have cautioned that they have "absolutely nothing to return to."
Officials cautioned that the recovery from what Joe Biden called "the worst hurricane in Florida's history" would be protracted, with huge destruction and flooding from Fort Myers on the Gulf of Mexico, through central towns including Orlando, to Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic side.
"We'll stay here till the recuperation is complete." It may take years, but we will get there," said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday.
On Thursday, Biden authorized a major disaster declaration for the nine hardest-hit Florida counties, freeing up billions of dollars in government resources to aid in recovery operations.
"The ramifications of this storm are extraordinary, and the devastation that has been done is historic," DeSantis said late Thursday after flying over Fort Myers Beach and nearby cities devastated by the hurricane.
Ian was expected to make landfall in South Carolina early Friday afternoon, becoming the third hurricane to make landfall in the state in six years, following Matthew in 2016 and Isaias in 2020, both of which caused severe damage.
Governor Henry McMaster announced a state of emergency before of the storm's arrival, and thousands of people were evacuated from the historic Charleston region.
"We definitely don't want our folks out and about because the storm winds will ultimately become so high that our first responders will be recalled back to the stations," Joe Coates, Charleston County's director of emergency management, told CNN.
"At midday, we have a 6.3ft high tide, which will aggravate all of our problems, including the possibility of a 7ft storm surge."
According to Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, the climate crisis has exacerbated the city's flood vulnerability, with Nasa measuring an average ocean increase of one inch per year since 2010.
"Sea level rise is real, it's happening, we're prepared, but it takes time," he explained.
Climate change, according to US climate researchers, increased the rainfall of Hurricane Ian by more than 10%.
High winds and torrential rain were already lashing areas of South Carolina under a hurricane warning hours before Ian arrived, which built up into a Category 1 hurricane again overnight after departing Florida's east coast as a tropical storm.
The storm's maximum sustained winds had climbed to more than 80mph (128km/h) by midnight Thursday, according to the NHC, and governors in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia proclaimed states of emergency.
The 21 confirmed and unconfirmed deaths thus far include verified and unconfirmed deaths, but not the alleged drowning of an unknown number of family members discovered in their house in Lee county or other developing disasters elsewhere, such as car deaths.