The destruction caused by Hurricane Ian has left 600,000 Florida homes without power and many without clean water after the storm battered Florida, Cuba and the US east coast
3 October 2022
Hurricane Ian hit the coast of Florida on 27 September, ripping homes off their foundations and transforming streets into waist-deep canals. As of 3 October, millions of people in the US were without power, and thousands had been stranded by high water and damaged roadways.
“We’re just beginning to see the scale of that destruction. It’s likely to rank among the worst… in the nation’s history,” said US president Joe Biden in a press briefing on 30 September. “It’s going to take months, years to rebuild.”
The category 4 hurricane blasted Florida with 250-kilometre-per-hour winds, more than 3.5 metres of storm surge and more than 40 centimetres of rainfall in some areas. Damage is concentrated in Florida’s Lee County, which includes the cities of Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs and Sanibel Island. Before making landfall in Florida, the tropical cyclone ravaged parts of Cuba, causing an island-wide blackout.
Hurricane Ian crossed over Florida into the Atlantic and made a second landfall on the coast of South Carolina as a category 1 hurricane on 30 September, where it toppled at least four piers along the state’s northern coast.
As of 3 October, at least 100 people are confirmed dead, including four in North Carolina and three in Cuba. Officials expect the death toll to rise as search teams comb through the wreckage, and as residents remain cut off from basic needs like clean drinking water, electricity and medical care.
Around 600,000 homes and businesses in Florida were without power as of 3 October. Residents in much of the southwestern part of the state have been advised to boil water to reduce contaminants, and others had no running water at all. Officials say it may be weeks or months before power is fully restored.
“The biggest challenge with power restoration is going to be in those areas that bore the brunt of the category 4 plus, almost category 5, impact where it may have uprooted some of the existing infrastructure,” said Florida governor Ron DeSantis in an update on 1 October. “Now, that will be fixed – it’s just not something that gets fixed in 24 or 48 hours.”
First responders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are conducting door-to-door searches for residents that need to be evacuated. FEMA said on 30 September that it had delivered 1.1 million meals and 1.6 million litres of water to Floridians struggling in the storm’s wake.
Climate researchers warn that southern US states could see more intense hurricanes like Ian in the future, as burning fossil fuels creates warm, moist conditions for tropical cyclones to thrive. While scientists are still debating if climate change is making extreme weather events more likely, most agree it’s making hurricanes more intense.
“There’s an overwhelming consensus that storms will get stronger, and they will also become wetter,” says Karthik Balaguru at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington. It is difficult to say exactly how climate change contributed to the recent storm, says Balaguru, but Hurricane Ian may be an ominous warning of wetter, more-destructive hurricane seasons to come.
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