Hurricane Ian devastates Florida with historic-levels of flooding

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A residential area in Lee County, Florida receives significant flooding and damages due to Hurricane Ian. This shows a fraction of the damage caused by the hurricane surging through Florida. (Courtesy of Makhenna Cullen)

Hurricane Ian, 2 mph short of a Category 5 hurricane, came through the west coast of Florida the afternoon of Sept. 28, bringing flooding and devastation throughout the state.

The hurricane surged through Cuba earlier this week, gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall in Cayo Costa, Lee County, with wind speeds at 155 mph, according to the Florida governor’s Sept. 28 news release.

President Biden spoke of the devastation and early reports of “substantial loss of life” at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Headquarters and said “this could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.” 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke of the historic, severe flooding at a news conference Thursday morning, saying “The amount of water that’s been rising, and will likely continue to rise today even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500-year flood event.”

He continued to say that flooding across the state will likely extend to even hundreds of miles away from the coast. “I think we’ve never seen a flood event like this, we’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude,” DeSantis said.

Biden has approved DeSantis’ request for a Major Disaster Declaration which will cover 100% of the costs for clearing debris and assist in funding reconstruction. Furthermore, search and rescue efforts have been in process since 1:00 a.m., according to the Sept. 29 news release.

A satellite image of Hurricane Ian’s center. (Courtesy of RAMMB-CIRA Satellite Library)

Utah native Makhenna Cullen resides in Lee County with her husband Conner, the county in which the hurricane first made landfall.

“I was tracking the eye and where our house is, is right on the eyewall. When people say it’s 150 mile winds, they’re tracking right at the eyewall, which is where we’re at.” Connor Cullen said Wednesday during the peak of the hurricane in the southwest area.

Although she has been in Florida for three years, this was Makhenna Cullen’s first hurricane. On Tuesday, she said she was most worried about the aftermath. This evening, she described the horrific destruction in her county, mentioning a McDonald’s sign that “looked like it was tinfoil that someone scrunched in their hand.”

“It’s awful. Full-on third level beach houses along Fort Myers beach are leveled. Boats in the Marina are on top of each other. We live by Sanibel island. The bridge to get into Sanibel is destroyed. The wind collapsed it in half.”

She spoke of the deadly effects of the hurricane. “It’s hard hearing the confirmed deaths. I always worry that I know someone that died. The responders are going door to door, if people aren’t answering they are breaking in to check for bodies,” she said.

Dayana Vargas, a New Jersey native living in Pasco County, was very anxious about enduring her first hurricane.

“You are scared of losing everything that you have, like my apartment can basically, you know, just be washed away. My car could be washed away, like everything that you have in the snap of your fingers can just be gone,” she said.

The storm has been announced a hurricane once more as it moves north toward the Carolinas and Georgia. The National Hurricane Center has reported life-threatening conditions and a prediction for the hurricane to strengthen before making landfall and then rapidly losing strength over the weekend.

The National Hurricane Center continues to update about the status of Hurricane Ian.

As the hurricane’s devastating effects in Florida and the southeastern states continue to unfold, Biden said that America pulls together during difficult times.

“We know many families are hurting, many, many are hurting today, and our entire country hurts with them.” 

After experiencing Hurricane Ian, Makhenna Cullen felt it was important for those in Utah to understand the magnitude of devastation caused by hurricanes.

“It was weird to be able to get some signal on Facebook and see people I knew in Utah just loving their life and going about it all as if nothing was happening. And here I was, scared for my life and loved ones as wind at 150 mph whipped around us,” Cullen said.

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