Hurricane Ian: Rescue operation continues in Florida as dozens confirmed dead

Officials have warned Hurricane Ian's final death toll is expected to rise considerably once rescue crews have performed a more comprehensive search of the affected areas. Credit: AP

Rescuers continued to search for survivors of Hurricane Ian on Saturday, among the ruins of Florida's flooded homes.

Authorities in South Carolina have also started assessing damage caused by the storm there, as the remnants of one of the strongest and costliest hurricanes to ever hit the US pushed further north.

Hurricane Ian has terrorised millions of people for much of the last week, battering western Cuba before raking across Florida from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where it mustered enough strength for a final assault on South Carolina.

Now weakened to a post-tropical cyclone, Ian was expected to move across central North Carolina on Saturday morning, before heading into Virginia and New York.

Ian has been blamed for the deaths of at least 30 people, including 27 people in Florida mostly from drowning but others from the storm's tragic aftereffects.

Authorities said an elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power.

On Friday, distraught residents waded through knee-high water, salvaging what possessions they could from their flooded homes and loading them onto rafts and canoes.

“I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don't know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said after shuffling through her mostly destroyed Fort Myers apartment.

In South Carolina, Ian's center came ashore near Georgetown, a small community along the Winyah Bay about 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of the historic Charleston.

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The storm washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two connected to the popular tourist town of Myrtle Beach.

Winds from Hurricane Ian measured much weaker on Friday than during its landfall, on Florida's Gulf Coast earlier in the week.

Authorities and volunteers there are still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of events from the past week.

Anthony Rivera, 25, said he was forced to climb through the window of his first floor apartment, during the storm, to carry his grandmother and girlfriend to the second floor.

As they hurried to escape the rising water the storm surge washed a boat next to his apartment.

Hurricane Ian has battered parts of Florida in recent days. Credit: AP

“That's the scariest thing in the world because I can't stop no boat,” he said. “I'm not Superman.”

Even though Ian has long passed over Florida, new problems are continuing to arise.

In the Port Charlotte area a 14 mile (22 kilometer) stretch of Interstate 75 was closed, late on Friday in both directions, because of the massive mount of water swelling the Myakka River.

Ross Giarratana, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Tampa, said the Myakka was cresting at a record 12.73 feet (3.88 meters) by Saturday morning.

Further southeast, the Peace River was also at a major flood stage in Polk, Hardee and DeSoto counties. The majority of those points have not yet crested, according to Mr Giarratana.

He said: “It was crazy to look at just how quickly the rivers were rising,’’ he said. “We knew that we were in for some record stuff.”

The final death toll from Ian is expected to be much higher, officials have warned, once rescue crews make a more comprehensive sweep of the affected areas.

Estimates have placed the damage caused by Hurricane Ian as likely “well over $100 billion’’ including $63 billion (£55 billion) in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modelling firm Karen Clark & Co.

If those numbers are borne out, that would make Ian at least the fourth costliest hurricane in US history.