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Rescuers continue search for Hurricane Ian survivors in Florida

Over 4,000 rescued in Florida after Ian
Over 4,000 people rescued after Ian floods Florida's neighborhoods 02:55

Dozens of Florida residents left their flooded and splintered homes by boat and by air on Saturday as rescuers continued to search for survivors in the wake of Hurricane Ian, while authorities in South Carolina and North Carolina began taking stock of their losses.

The storm weakened Saturday as it rolled into the mid-Atlantic, but not before it washed out bridges and piers, hurdled massive boats into buildings onshore and sheared roofs off homes, leaving hundreds of thousands without power. Now a post-tropical cyclone, it was expected to dissipate by Sunday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

As of late Saturday evening, the official statewide death toll in Florida stood at 24. However, after contacting local sheriffs' offices, CBS News found that the number of deaths attributed directly or indirectly to the hurricane was at least 73. Of those 73, 35 were in Lee County, and 23 in Charlotte County.

Fort Myers Beach, Florida Hurricane damage
A member of a search and rescue team searches the rubble on a property located at Anchorage Street in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, two days after Hurricane Ian hit as a Category 4 storm. Sept. 30, 2022.  Pedro Portal/El Nuevo Herald/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

At a Saturday morning press conference, FEMA and U.S. Coast Guard officials said about 4,000 people have been rescued in Florida by local, state and federal authorities, with a vast majority of those coming from the barrier islands — like Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach and Pine Island. Sanibel and Pine islands remain inaccessible. 

The Lee County Sheriff's Office reported Saturday evening that the U.S. Coast Guard was planning a "waterborne" Pine Island evacuation effort Sunday. On Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida's Gulf Coast, houses were reduced to splinters and boats littered roadways as a volunteer group went door-to-door Saturday, asking residents if they wanted to be evacuated. Helen Koch blew her husband a kiss and mouthed the words "I love you" as she sat inside a rescue helicopter that was lifting her and seven of the couple's 17 dogs to safety.

Chris Schnapp was at the Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers on Saturday, waiting to see whether her 83-year-old mother-in-law had been evacuated from Sanibel Island. A pontoon boat had just arrived with a load of passengers from the island - with suitcases and animals in tow - but Schnapp's mother-in-law was not among them.

"She stayed on the island. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law own two businesses over there. They evacuated. She did not want to go," Schnapp said. Now, she said, she wasn't sure if her mother-in-law was still on the island or had been taken to a shelter somewhere.

Hurricane Ian Florida damage
Damaged homes following Hurricane Ian in Matlacha Isles, Florida, on Oct. 1, 2022.  Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Some 10,000 people were still in Florida shelters as of Saturday morning, according to the Red Cross, and authorities have not yet determined what kind of temporary housing will be set up for those who lost their homes.

At least 145 hospitals and medical facilities in Florida were impacted by Hurricane Ian. Of those, 10 emergency departments were fully evacuated. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to conduct damage assessments. 

"There are impacts to the hospital system," FEMA assistant administrator Anne Bink said, adding that FEMA is engaged in "bulk water delivery" to affected medical facilities, particularly in Lee County.

More than one million customers in Florida were still without power Saturday evening, along with over 43,000 in North Carolina, according to

Meanwhile, river flooding posed a major challenge at times to rescue and supply delivery efforts in Florida. The Myakka River washed over a stretch of Interstate 75, forcing a traffic-snarling highway closure for a while Saturday on the key corridor linking Tampa to the north with the hard-hit southwest Florida region that straddles Port Charlotte and Fort Myers. Later Saturday, state officials said, water levels had receded enough that I-75 could be fully reopened. However, they said monitors were out keeping close watch on constantly changing river levels.

While rising waters in Florida's southwest rivers have crested or are near cresting, the levels aren't expected to drop significantly for days, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming in Tampa.

Hurricane Ian hits Florida
A view from the area after Hurricane Ian hits Florida on Sept. 30, 2022 in North Port, Florida, United States.  Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Elsewhere, South Carolina's Pawleys Island — a beach community roughly 75 miles up the coast from Charleston — was among the places hardest hit. Power remained knocked out to at least half of the island Saturday.

Eddie Wilder, who has been coming to Pawleys Island for more than six decades, said Friday's storm was "insane to watch." He said waves as high as 25 feet washed away the local pier - an iconic landmark - near his home.

"We watched it hit the pier and saw the pier disappear," said Wilder, whose house 30 feet above the ocean stayed dry inside. "We watched it crumble and and watched it float by with an American flag."

The Pawleys pier was one of at least four along South Carolina's coast destroyed by battering winds and rain. Parts of the pier, including barnacle-covered pylons, littered the beach. The intracoastal waterway was strewn with the remnants of several boat houses knocked off their pilings.

In North Carolina, the storm mostly downed trees and power lines, leaving over 280,000 people statewide without power Saturday morning, officials said.

In southwest Florida, authorities and volunteers were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of the disaster.

"I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don't know what else to do," Stevie Scuderi said, mud clinging to her purple sandles as she shuffled through her mostly destroyed apartment in Fort Myers.

On Saturday, a long line of people waited outside an auto parts store in Port Charlotte, where a sign read, "We have generators now." Hundreds of cars were lined up outside a gas station, and some people walked, carrying gas cans to their nearby cars. 

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