FORT MYERS FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 29: Frankie Romulus (L) and Kendrick Romulus stand outside of their apartment next to a boat that floated into their apartment complex when Hurricane Ian passed through the area on September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers, Florida. Mrs. Brennan said the boat floated in around 7pm. The hurricane brought high winds, storm surge and rain to the area causing severe damage. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
State emergency officials have confirmed a death in central Polk County and 20 more deaths are being investigated following Ian’s devastation in Florida.
Meanwhile, 1.9 million homes and business are still without power, according to information from a news conference Friday morning.
President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak about the impacts of the storm at 11:30 a.m.
And FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell joined Gov. Ron DeSantis to update Floridians on the progress of recovery from the storm.
“What we have done prior to landfall is we did stage a lot of search and rescue resources to support the great efforts that have been happening here in the state of Florida. We have those resources available as the state needs it, and we’ve also begun to move in food and water into those points of distribution,” Criswell said at the news conference.
“The president did declare a major disaster declaration for individual assistance as well as public assistance. Public assistance is going to allow us to reimburse a lot of the costs for the first responders who have been doing an amazing job, allow us to reimburse some of our overtime costs for all of the work that they’ve been doing to stabilize this incident. And on the individual assistance side, right now, there are 13 counties that have been designated for individual assistance, but we will add more.”
The state and federal officials did not offer information on the fatalities until prompted by questions from the media.
As to the 20 “unconfirmed” fatalities, that means the deaths have not yet been confirmed as storm-related or not, said director of Florida Division of Emergency Management Kevin Guthrie.
Guthrie reported that there have been 12 unconfirmed deaths in Charlotte County and eight in Lee County — areas where Hurricane Ian had been battering the southwest part of the peninsula. And those numbers could soon rise.
“We do have an identified situation…of some fatalities — we do not know exactly how many were in the house. Let me paint a picture for you: the water was up over the rooftop, Guthrie said. “We had a coast guard rescue swimmer swim down into it, and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many. We do not know what the situation is and before we comment on that — we want to be transparent, but we just do not know that number.”
“People die in disasters that have nothing to do with the disaster, right?” Guthrie explained. “So, the medical examiner is the one that makes that determination. They are the lead agency at the local level to determine, when they investigate, that this is either disaster-related or not disaster related.”
He said when a fatality is determined to be storm-related, there’s a determination of a direct or indirect death. Direct deaths include scenarios such as storm surges and rising water. Indirect would mean things such as operating a generator unsafely.
Guthrie and DeSantis say that there have been more than 700 rescues since Ian made landfall. And FEMA officials are working with the state to keep those efforts going.
According to a Friday press release, FEMA has delivered 1.1 million meals and 1.6 million liters of water to Florida, with additional meals and liters available for distribution when post-storm conditions are safer.
Helicopters and aircrafts, highwater vehicles and watercrafts from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Defense are being used for search and rescue operations.
The U.S. Department of Health also is getting involved, deploying a “a 38-person disaster medical assistance team to Miami,” according to the press release.
The press release also notes that there are mental health support lines and resources for storm survivors. The Disaster Distress Help line provides free crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress from Hurricane Ian or other disasters and can be reached at 1-800-985-5990.
With Hurricane Ian now heading north, FEMA is also urging residents of Georgia and South Carolina to have hurricane plans in place.
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