Crews work to help those hit by Hurricane Ian in Florida as storm moves into Carolinas

Hurricane Ian is back on shore after its second landfall on the U.S. mainland. The storm struck near Georgetown, South Carolina Friday afternoon with winds of 85 mph, heavy rain and surging waves. In its wake, officials in Florida confirmed at least 17 dead with vast scenes of wreckage along the state's southwestern coastline. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hurricane Ian is back onshore tonight and weakening to a tropical storm after its second landfall on the U.S. mainland.

    The storm struck near Georgetown, South Carolina, this afternoon with winds of 85 miles an hour, heavy rain, and surging waves. In its wake, officials in Florida confirmed at least nine people dead, with vast scenes of wreckage along the state's southwestern coastline.

    John Yang begins our coverage again from Sarasota, Florida.

  • John Yang:

    A Coast Guard rescue team lands on Sanibel Island, still covered by several feet of water and isolated because the only bridge connecting it to the mainland collapsed as Ian came ashore.

  • Person:

    How many of there are you?

  • Person:

    Just me and my wife. Well, we got three cats.

  • John Yang:

    The team tells the couple to pack a bag of essentials. As they're lifted to safety, the woman clings to her cat tucked into its carrier.

    It's one of more than 700 rescues across Southwest and Central Florida in Ian's aftermath. Stephen King rode out the storm on San Carlos Island.

  • Stephen King, Florida Resident:

    And when it got to there, the way they were saying on the news, I thought it was going to eventually go over our heads. I called my daughters and said goodbye.

    Next time, we will know to get the hell out.

  • John Yang:

    Ed McCrane has run Sarasota County's emergency services for 17 years.

  • Ed McCrane, Sarasota County Emergency Services Chief:

    You will notice the signs of logistics. This is probably the worst type of storm that I have seen in my career. And I have been through Katrina, Ivan, those, but this one was intense. I think they're going to end up classifying this as one of the most dangerous and largest in the history.

  • John Yang:

    The work of McCrane's team didn't end when Ian moved on from Southwest Florida.

  • Ed McCrane:

    We transition from responding to recovery. We're still responding, because we're bringing in food and water. We're doing search-and-rescue operations. But we're coordinating for resources.

  • John Yang:

    Before-and-after photos dramatically illustrate the destruction Ian caused in Fort Myers, leveling homes and wiping out entire communities.

    For residents returning to the city, the loss is palpable.

  • Wimajeane Laery, Florida Resident:

    We just got here, and this is what we found. We have only been here for six months. We just pooled all of our money to buy it. And it's gone six months later.

  • John Yang:

    Tyler Halman placed his waterlogged family photo albums in the sun to dry.

  • Tyler Halman, Florida Resident:

    Everything was submerged. We had probably three or four feet of water inside the house.

    At the White House, President Biden expressed the nation's sympathies.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: The situation in Florida is far more devastating. We're just beginning to see the scale of that destruction. It's likely to rank among the worst in the nation's history.

    It's going to take months, years to rebuild. And our hearts go out to all those folks whose lives have been absolutely devastated by the storm. America's heart is literally breaking.

  • John Yang:

    High water remains a problem throughout Southwest Florida, and officials say it could get worse in the coming days. That's because all that rain that got dumped on Central Florida is going to be carried by rivers down to this region.

    Rebuilding lives won't be easy. At one point today, 1.9 million people across the state were still without power. Many of them relied on gasoline-powered generators, but gas is hard to come by.

  • Jovita Canales, Florida Resident:

    I have been waiting for about 2.5 hours, almost three hours in line for gas.

  • John Yang:

    In South Carolina, heavy rains hit the coast as Ian made its second landfall.

  • Przemyslaw Murczkiewicz, South Carolina Resident:

    It looks like it's going to be less than what's happened in Florida, but you never know.

  • John Yang:

    Residents there will be hunkering down for a long night.

    At Sarasota County's Emergency Management Center in Florida, Director Ed McCrane knows he can't let his guard down.

  • Ed McCrane:

    This is 30 September. We have all of October and all of November, the remainder the hurricane season. We're not taking our eyes off the Atlantic. There could be another system that pops up. This has been a very quiet year in some people's minds, until this. It only takes one. And this was our one.

  • John Yang:

    This operation center has been staffed 24 hours a day, two 12-hour shifts since this past weekend. And the director says he expects it to remain up and running for some time to come, though not necessarily around the clock, as the long recovery effort continues — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John, thank you.

    I want to ask you, also, we have been seeing reports about a significant number of nursing homes, assisted living facilities that have had to be evacuated. Do we know how many there are and what's their status?

  • John Yang:

    The officials of the Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, say that there are about 8,000 residents who have been evacuated, mostly in Southwestern Florida, because of the wind damage, because of the storm surge, but also some in Central Florida and Eastern Florida because of the torrential rain and flooding.

    Some of these places don't have running water. Some don't have power, and some are damaged structurally.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, John, do we know what the plans are with regard to bringing them back to where they were and what they're doing in the meantime and how that's all being managed?

  • John Yang:

    A lot of them are in evacuation — in the evacuation centers.

    And the Florida Health Care Association notes that their caregivers have sort of embedded with them, have remained with them and gone with them, even though their homes may have been damaged and have withstood the brunt of Ian. There are about 78 nursing homes without power, but have generators that are still in operation. It's a state law here in Florida that all long-term care facilities have generators, and that once a state of emergency is declared, they have 96 hours of fuel on hand.

    And also a number of the nursing homes that don't have running water are looking at bringing in water trucks, so they can get the residents back in their familiar surroundings as quickly as possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, the challenges just seem to be endless wherever you look.

    John Yang reporting for us from Sarasota.

    Thank you, John.

    Let's talk further about some of the relief efforts that are beginning to get under way.

    Evan Peterson is with the American Red Cross. And he joins me from Orlando.

    Welcome to you, Mr. Peterson.

    So, tell us, what are you and your colleagues dealing with? What are you going to be having to do in the days to come?

  • Evan Peterson, American Red Cross:

    Well, it is kind of in a moment right now where we're all kind of coming out of our shelters and figuring out what exactly happened. How much damage has there been?

    We have been here since before the storm, making sure that we have resources and people at the ready so that, when the time comes that we're not providing that immediate safety and those immediate needs, we can start transitioning towards long-term recovery.

    Right now, we're slowly beginning that process. We have been in constant communication with our government liaisons, municipalities, emergency management services, all across the state of Florida, but as well as South Carolina and Georgia, making sure that, when they need help, when they need us to help respond, we are able to do so.

    In fact, last night we had 10,000 people staying at a variety of Red Cross and partner shelters, about 100 in total. So, right now, that's the name of the game, beginning that pivot, assessing damage, and making sure we're developing that plan to help people make that long-term recovery help.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think the greatest need is going to be, first in Florida, where it certainly appears the worst impact of this storm has been felt?

  • Evan Peterson:

    I think, right now, it might be a little too early to say what the greatest need is going to be.

    Ahead of this storm, we moved in tens of thousands of different kinds of disaster supplies to help people, including hundreds of blood products. But, right now, when people have been asking me, what is the best way that I can contribute to what the Red Cross is doing in helping people, I tell them this. If you have a blood appointment on the books right now, please keep that blood appointment.

    We, again, moved hundreds of products down here ahead of the storm so that, when emergency responders need to reach for that type O, they're able to do so. It's going to be on their shelves. But we need to keep that supply open.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So I can see you're looking for donations.

    So, at this point, do you have any sense of where the greatest need will be in the Florida area?

  • Evan Peterson:

    All across the state of Florida is where we're going to be using this money to help us address this.

    But, obviously, right now, when we hear meteorologists, when we hear Hurricane Center meteorologists say that this is a catastrophic flood, I think, right now, we're looking to that West Coast of Florida, Fort Myers area first — one of the first places that comes to mind, because that's where we're seeing a lot of damage, storm surge, millions of people without power.

    So it's going to be put to use everywhere impacted by Ian, but, right now, our attention is on those hardest-hit places.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're clearly looking at a long recovery to come.

    Evan Peterson with the American Red Cross joining us from Orlando, thank you very much.

  • Evan Peterson:

    Thank you.

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