Hurricane Ian leaves behind catastrophic damage after tearing through Florida

Hurricane Ian left behind massive damage and widespread power outages after tearing through Florida. President Biden declared the storm a major disaster, paving the way for federal funds to support rescue and rebuilding efforts. After crossing the Florida Peninsula, the storm is now back over the water and expected to make a second landfall in the Carolinas. John Yang reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Hurricane Ian has moved on tonight after stamping an indelible mark of death and destruction across Florida.

    Local officials are reporting multiple people killed and hundreds of thousands more in the dark for days to come. Meanwhile, Ian has regained hurricane strength late today as it heads for landfall in South Carolina tomorrow.

    John Yang spent this day in St. Augustine, Florida, and begins our coverage.

  • John Yang:

    Rescuers struggle to reach people stranded by the floodwaters that Ian left behind after raking the state overnight.

  • Person:

    Are you guys OK?

  • John Yang:

    By midday, more than 500 people had been rescued in hardest-hit Southwest Florida. The efforts are hampered by flooded roads and damaged bridges. This is what's left of the only connection between Sanibel and Captiva islands in Florida's Gulf Coast.

    In Naples, docks floated down the Gordon River and buildings were completely submerged. Boats now sit between buildings in Fort Myers near where Ian made landfall. Some parts of the city were under three or four feet of water, turning homes into islands and causing severe damage.

  • David Adams, Fort Myers Resident:

    We got out the door, swam out the door, because the water was here.

  • John Yang:

    Officials are asking people to stay home and off the roads, many areas still unreachable. President Biden warned the death toll could be significantly higher.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida's history. The numbers of still — are still unclear, but we're hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life.

  • John Yang:

    Florida Governor Ron DeSantis:

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL):

    This is going to require years of effort to be able to rebuild and to come back. These are fantastic communities down in Southwest Florida. Of course, they didn't ask for this, but they need our help now.

  • Person:

    Here we are downtown Bonita right after the storm, underwater.

  • John Yang:

    Across the state utility, crews prepared for the long work of restoring power. At one point today, as many as 2.5 million customers were in the dark.

    So have you stockpiled material here?

    Marshall Hastings, Florida Power and Light: Yes, so, ahead of any storm, what we do is, we gather the material that our crews both in state and out of state are going to need for the restoration process. So we have got anything from transformers, poles, wires, anything that needs to be used by our crews, as soon as they can get out there.

  • John Yang:

    Marshall Hastings is a spokesperson for Florida Power and Light, the state's biggest utility.

    Statewide, there are 21,000 workers ready to go, many of them from other power companies as far away as New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Minnesota. In some places, the damage is so great that the task is more than simply restoring service.

  • Marshall Hastings:

    We're going to have to rebuild. So that's going to mean extended outages for our customers. It takes about 24 hours post-landfall and post-clearing for us to really get a scope and idea of what the work is ahead of us.

  • John Yang:

    Climate scientists say storms like Ian will be more common as warmer waters stir up more dangerous hurricanes. Hastings says the utility has worked to prepare Florida for this changing reality.

  • Marshall Hastings:

    We have been on a journey of hardening the energy grid and in many cases undergrounding power lines for the last decade. And so, as we rebuild it, we're ensuring the energy grid is as strong as it possibly can be to withstand hurricanes like this.

  • John Yang:

    The storm is now heading out into the Atlantic and is forecast to make landfall again, this time in South Carolina, where residents are bracing for Ian's arrival tomorrow.

    Utility officials say that some parts of the state may not have power for days, even weeks. That's because they're going to have to rebuild the power grid in areas where Ian left a deep, deep mark — Amna.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    John, the damage sounds so extensive, particularly to that power system there. It's only been a day since the storm made landfall. So how are some of those earlier efforts to get out and restore power going so far?

  • John Yang:

    Well, it takes a little while because they can't get out.

    Number one, some roads are blocked. They can't get to where the damage is and where the work is needed. But, also, they can't get people up, workers often what they call those buckets, those buckets you see at the end of the articulated arms of utility trucks. They need the wind to be below 30 miles an hour in order to do that.

    And we're getting buffeted here. We're on the East Coast, the Atlantic Coast of Florida, so the storm has already moved out to the Atlantic. But we're still being buffeted here by gusts up to 40 to 45 miles an hour. They hope, they believe that that tropical storm or wind will die down, diminish overnight, and they can get out and be working full force tomorrow.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    John, when the damage is so extensive and so widespread — we know they prepositioned a lot of crews to try to address that power system failure early. But how do they prioritize where they're going?

  • John Yang:

    Well, they have got about 37 of — staging areas around the state. And the locations of those kept changing as the track of the storm kept changing.

    The utility FPL has been working on this, planning for this storm, preplanning for their storm for more than a week. So they have moved around those staging areas to where they anticipated that they'd be needed the most. Those staging areas are like camps, worker camps. They have got big tractor trailers outfitted with bunks for the workers to sleep in, big tents to feed them in, all to make their downtime more efficient, and to maximize the time that they're out working once they can get out, once the winds die down, maximize their time trying to restore power.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We hope they're able to go out and do that safely as soon as possible.

    We hope you stay safe as well, John.

    That is John Yang reporting from St. Augustine, Florida, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

    Thank you.

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