(NewsNation) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Wednesday that Hurricane Ian would likely cause damage throughout the state. On Thursday, pictures of the devastation showed the toll taken on multiple cities.
Ian made landfall as one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. Though downgraded to a tropical storm by Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said the storm had returned to hurricane strength by the afternoon, and that storm surge and flooding remained a threat.
At a Thursday evening news conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis said damage across the state is “indescribable” and that there have been more than 700 confirmed rescues. Aside from the millions left without electricity, there was also infrastructure damage, including a water main break in Lee County, DeSantis said.
Overall, DeSantis said the state of roadways was “really good” despite isolated incidents of severe damage in certain areas.
On the barrier islands off the coast of Fort Myers, there’s total devastation. Homes and businesses have been ripped apart on San Carlos Island, and the structures that are still standing are waterlogged.
“It’s Hiroshima. Anybody with a single-story home or who lived in a mobile home is now homeless down here,” said resident Scott Neely. “It is just that simple.”
On Joey Fernandez’s street, ocean water rose 12 feet.
“I had to punch through the actual wall and go to a third floor about 30 feet up so we could actually escape the water,” he said.
Fernandez said he got on his jet ski in an effort to make water rescues but instead found several people who did not survive — two of whom he knew. He believes they drowned.
“I knew two of them,” he said. “There was one of them that was holding onto his puppy when he passed away. The other one had Parkinson’s. I’m just trying to take care of the island. There are a bunch of people who have nowhere to go. They don’t have food or water.”
The Naples Fire Rescue Department shared photos showing firefighters face to face with a storm surge outside their own garage, NewsNation affiliate WFLA reported. The water rose up to the firefighters’ hips and over the wheels of at least one of their trucks.
A chunk of the Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people live. It was unknown how many heeded orders to evacuate, but Charlotte County Emergency Management Director Patrick Fuller expressed cautious optimism.
“This is devastating,” said a nearby resident who spoke with NewsNation. “I’ve looked out on Sanibel for many years and have a lot of friends out there and it’s just heartbreaking because they’ve lost everything.”
In the northeastern part of Florida, Volusia County suffered major flooding. Sheriff Mike Chitwood said his teams rescued several people, including a 97-year-old woman who had broken her hip and was stranded in her home.
“For us, there were places that have never flooded,” Chitwood said. “We’re talking waist-deep water that we have to go in and evacuate people.”
Siesta Keys resident Jacquie Jordan was one of many Florida newcomers who had never experienced a hurricane before. She endured 100 mph winds for about 10 hours and was left without refrigeration and air conditioning when her family lost power.