Watch CBS News

Residents return to find homes gone, towns devastated in path of Idalia

South Florida sending more aid to hurricane hit Big Bend region
South Florida sending more aid to hurricane hit Big Bend region 02:10
Gov. DeSantis gives an update on Idalia recovery 19:31

HORSESHOE BEACH - Florida residents living along Hurricane Idalia's path of destruction picked through piles of rubble where homes once stood, threw tarps over ripped-apart roofs and gingerly navigated streets left underwater or clogged with fallen trees and dangerous electric wires.

"My plan today is to go around and find anything that's in the debris that is salvageable and clean out my storage shed," said Aimee Firestine of Cedar Key, an island located near where Idalia roared ashore with 125 mph winds Wednesday.

Firestine rode out Idalia about 40 minutes inland. When she drove back onto the island hours after the storm passed, her heart sank. The gas station was gone. Trees were toppled. Power lines were on the ground. An entire building belonging to the 12-unit Faraway Inn her family owns had been wiped away. Another building lost a wall.

"It was a little heart-wrenching and depressing," Firestine said.

After making landfall in Florida, it then swung northeast, slamming Georgia, flooding many of South Carolina's beaches and sending seawater into the streets of downtown Charleston. In North Carolina it poured more than 9 inches of rain on Whiteville, which flooded downtown buildings.

Thousands of utility linemen rushed to restore power in Florida but nearly 100,000 customers were still without electricity Thursday night.

James Nobles returned to the tiny town of Horseshoe Beach in Florida's remote Big Bend to find his home had survived the battering winds and rain but many of his neighbors weren't as fortunate.

"The town, I mean, it's devastated," Nobles said. "It's probably 50 or 60 homes here, totally destroyed. I'm a lucky one."

Residents, most of whom evacuated inland during the storm, helped each other clear debris or collect belongings - high school trophies, photos, records, china. They frequently stopped to hug amid tears. Six-foot-high watermarks stained walls still standing, marking the extent of the storm surge.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis toured the area with his wife, Casey, and federal emergency officials.

"I've seen a lot of really heartbreaking damage," he said, noting a church that had been swamped by more than 4 feet of water.

Tammy Bryan, a member of the severely damaged First Baptist Church, said Horseshoe Beach residents consider themselves a family, one largely anchored by the church.

"It's a breath of fresh air here," Bryan said. "It's beautiful sunsets, beautiful sunrises. We have all of old Florida right here. And today we feel like it's been taken away."

Florida officials said there was one hurricane-related death in the Gainesville area, but didn't release any details.

But unlike previous storms, Idalia didn't wreak havoc on major urban centers. It provided only glancing blows to Tampa Bay and other more populated areas, DeSantis noted. In contrast, Hurricane Ian last year hit the heavily populated Fort Myers area, leaving 149 dead in the state.

President Joe Biden spoke to DeSantis and promised whatever federal aid is available. Biden also announced that he will go to Florida on Saturday to see the damage himself.

The president used a news conference at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's headquarters to send a message to Congress, especially those lawmakers who are balking at his request for $12 billion in emergency funding to respond to natural disasters.

"We need this disaster relief request met and we need it in September" after Congress returns from recess, said Biden, who had pizza delivered to FEMA employees who have been working around the clock on Idalia and the devastating wildfires on Maui, Hawaii.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.