Tropical Storm Ian Live Updates: Tracking Ian As It Lashes Florida – USA TODAY

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The death toll was rising and thousands of Floridians desperately sought rescue as historically powerful Hurricane Ian hammered the state with heavy rain and strong winds, one of the strongest storms in U.S. history.

The hurricane’s center made landfall as a Category 4 monster Wednesday afternoon near Cayo Costa, a barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers in Lee County.

“The impacts of this storm are historic and the damage that has been done is historic,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday. “We’ve never seen a flood event like this, we’ve never seen a storm surge of tis magnitude.”

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said on CNN that at leave five deaths have been confirmed in his county. He told ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” that hundreds may have died and thousands are in need of rescue. 

More than 2.6 million Florida homes and business were without power early Thursday. 

Ian had weakened to a tropical storm but was forecast to continue roaring across the state most of the day before heading out into the Atlantic. The storm flooded entire communities, leaving residents stranded in their homes with battering 150-mph maximum sustained winds – just 7 mph shy of a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale.

The storm previously tore into Cuba, killing two people and bringing down the country’s electrical grid. No injuries or deaths have been reported in Florida. 

Latest developments:

►The U.S. Coast Guard was still searching for more than 20 Cuban migrants after their boat sank in stormy weather near the Florida Keys.

► Ian’s strength at landfall tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane when measured by wind speed to strike the U.S. It’s tied with five other hurricanes that reached 150 mph — two in Florida, two in Louisiana and one in Texas.

► Residents described the terror after a tornado tore through a condominium complex near Delray Beach, ripping off roofs and turning over vehicles. “I felt things blow past my head and face,” resident Jim Travis said. “When I opened the door, my apartment was destroyed.” Read more. 

Quick links:

GET TEXT UPDATES: Sign up here for text updates on Hurricane Ian.

HURRICANE IAN TRACKER: Where is Ian headed? See the map.

IAN FORECAST: Ian likely to spend days dumping rain on Florida. Here’s the outlook.

Hurricane Ian tracker As now Tropical Storm Ian continues to move across Florida on Thursday, USA TODAY’s Hurricane Ian tracker will remain updated and offer the latest look at where the storm is headed.

Lee County sheriff fears ‘hundreds’ could be deadThe hurricane’s center made landfall as a Category 4 monster Wednesday afternoon near Cayo Costa, a barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers in Lee County.

“While I don’t have confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America.” “There are thousands of people that are waiting to be rescued.”

Pressed on the numbers, Marceno said “so far confirmed in the hundreds. Meaning that we are responding to events, drownings. Again, unsure of the exact details because we are just starting to scratch the surface on this assessment.”

Emergency crews sawed through toppled trees to reach people in flooded homes. “If the line is busy, keep trying,” Marceno said in a Facebook post early Thursday.

More than 2.6 million Floridians without powerMore than 2.5 million homes and businesses across Florida were without power early Thursday, according to PowerOutage.us. Most of the homes and businesses in 12 counties were without power, although authorities said they were making progress, that power had been restored to 500,000.

Sheriff Bull Prummell of Charlotte County, just north of Fort Myers, announced a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. “for life-saving purposes,” saying violators may face second-degree misdemeanor charges.

“I am enacting this curfew as a means of protecting the people and property of Charlotte County,” Prummell said.

Southeast braces as Ian advancesMeteorologists with the National Hurricane Center said Ian will roll off of Florida’s east coast, turn northwest and might strengthen to hurricane status again before making landfall again in South Carolina. The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia all preemptively declared states of emergency.

“State agencies are working together and preparing for Hurricane Ian’s potential impact,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMasters said on Twitter. “Each South Carolinian should do the same – take the time now to make a plan for every contingency.”

Hospital roof partially torn off, fire station flooded: Damage in Florida Parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast saw major damage as Hurricane Ian swept through the state, damaging buildings and homes and flooding communities.

Water coursed through the streets of Naples, creating giant waves that made roads impassable and flooded the city’s fire department. A video posted by Naples Fire-Rescue showed crews working to salvage equipment and firetrucks in more than 3 feet of water. In Cape Coral, about 30 miles up the coast, photos showed a sailboat washed up in the middle of a road near homes. 

Nearby Fort Myers saw intense storm surge flooding coastal communities and the area around WINK News, a local CBS affiliate. Videos showed water reaching car windshields in the studio’s parking lot and some of the storm surge leaking into the building. 

Farther north along the coast, intense storm surge flooded a hospital’s lower level emergency room in Port Charlotte, while fierce winds ripped away part of the roof from its intensive care unit, according to a doctor who works there.

WHAT IS STORM SURGE?Explaining a hurricane’s deadliest and most destructive threat

Water gushed down from above onto the ICU, forcing staff to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients – some of whom were on ventilators – to other floors, said Dr. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital. Staff members used towels and plastic bins to try to mop up the sodden mess.

Officials warned flash floods were possible across the state, which could lead to pollution and radioactive waste overflow.

SAFFIR-SIMPSON WIND SPEED SCALE: Breaking down wind speed scale for hurricanes.

HOW DOES HURRICANE IAN COMPARE: Category 5 hurricanes are rare. Is Ian’s punch the worst U.S. has seen?

Contributing: Kate Cimini, USA Today Network-Florida; Associated Press