(MENAFN- The Peninsula) AP
Hurricane Ian left a path of destruction in southwest Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, cutting off the only bridge to a barrier island, damaging the roof of a hospital intensive care unit and knocking out power to 2.5 million people as it dumped rain across the peninsula on Thursday.
One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States threatened catastrophic flooding around the state. Ian's tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 415 miles (665 km), drenching much of Florida and the southeastern Atlantic coast.
Emergency crews sawed through toppled trees to reach people in flooded homes, but with no electricity and virtually no cell service, it was impossible for many people to call for help from the hardest hit coastal areas where the surge came in.
'Portable towers are on the way for cell service. Chances are your loved ones do not have ability to contact you,” said the sheriff's office in Collier County, which includes Naples. 'We can tell you as daylight reveals the aftermath, it's going to be a hard day.”
In Lee County, which includes Fort Myers, just south of where Hurricane Ian made landfall, the sheriff's Office posted a phone number family and friends can call for welfare checks, and said 'If the line is busy, keep trying.”
The National Hurricane Center said Ian became a tropical storm over land early Thursday and was expected to regain near-hurricane strength after emerging over Atlantic waters near the Kennedy Space Center later in the day, with South Carolina in its sights for a second U.S. landfall.
A stretch of the Gulf Coast remained inundated by ocean water, pushed ashore by the massive storm. 'Severe and life-threatening storm surge inundation of 8 to 10 feet above ground level along with destructive waves is ongoing along the southwest Florida coastline from Englewood to Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbor,” the Miami-based hurricane center said.
A chunk of the Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people normally live. How many heeded mandatory evacuation orders was impossible to know in the storm's immediate aftermath.
In Port Charlotte, the storm surge flooded a hospital's emergency room even as fierce winds ripped away part of the roof from its intensive care unit, according to a doctor who works there.
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