Hurricane Ian’s US death toll up to 103 as questions arise on evacuation process

APTOPIX Tropical Weather Florida
Posted at 6:51 AM, Oct 03, 2022

The death toll from Hurricane Ian continues to rise five days after the Category 4 storm slammed into the west coast of Florida.

As of Monday, 103 fatalities in the U.S. tied to the hurricane have been confirmed.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) confirmed Monday evening that 68 people died statewide in the storm.

The official state death toll will likely increase as Lee and Charlotte County sheriffs report more casualties in their areas.

During a press conference Monday, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno announced that 54 people had died in that county.

In Charlotte County, the sheriff reported 24 casualties.

Although the count remains fluid, early death tolls suggest this could be Florida's deadliest hurricane in more than eight decades.

Historical data kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that the deadliest hurricane on record in Florida killed 408 people in 1935.

According to the FDLE, deaths were reported in the following counties:

Charlotte – 2
Collier – 4
Hardee – 1
Hendry – 1
Hillsborough – 1
Lake – 1
Lee – 45
Manatee – 3
Polk – 2
Sarasota – 3
Volusia – 5

Officials also confirmed the hurricane killed four people in North Carolina, and three deaths were reported in Cuba.

Florida officials said they are still conducting rescues in the state.

On Monday, the Florida Division of Emergency Management said that as of 4 p.m. ET, more than 2,000 people statewide had been rescued.

In the days after Hurricane Ian struck land, there are questions emerged about the evacuation process in Lee County. Officials ordered an evacuation of low-lying areas of Lee County last Tuesday, one day before the area faced hurricane conditions.

Lee County officials say it takes 41 hours to evacuate areas prone to storm surges due to traffic fully.

Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s emergency management director, said evacuation orders are handled at the local level. Guthrie added that he trusted local officials to make the right call.

“Emergency management directors do not have a crystal ball," he stated.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said he would not be done anything differently.

“Everyone wants to focus on a plan that might have been done differently. I'm gonna tell you I stand 100% with my county commissioners [and] my county manager. We did what we had to do at the exact same time. I wouldn't have changed anything,” Marceno said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stood by local officials’ decision.

“It's is easy to second-guess them, but they were ready for the whole time and made that call when there was justifiable to do so,” DeSantis told CNN.

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast had Lee County on the right side of its forecast cone for days before it made landfall. While the center of the cone days out had landfall closer to Tampa, the National Hurricane Center says one-in-three storms fall outside of the forecast cone.

Parts of Lee County were not placed under the first hurricane warnings last Monday. A hurricane watch was issued for parts of Lee County not under the initial hurricane warning.

The National Hurricane Center shifted its watches and warnings early Tuesday as the forecast began to shift farther south.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are expected to visit Florida to view the storm's damage on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.