Florida search and rescue efforts redoubled in aftermath of deadly Hurricane Ian

By Rod Nickel

FORT MYERS, Fla., Oct 3 (Reuters) - Search and rescue teams in Florida on Monday were doubling back to check on tens of thousands of homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast after completing an initial search of the area that was ravaged by Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever to strike the United States.

First responders have made a quick visit to about 45,000 homes and businesses after the Category 4 storm inundated homes and buildings with water or completely washed them away, Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida's emergency management, said during a morning briefing.

"We've been to about every address," he said, noting that crews are now conducting a more thorough search. "We believe that we have searched everything very quickly. Now we are going back for a second look."

Since Ian crashed ashore with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (240 km per hour), at least 58 storm-related deaths have been confirmed by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission. Officials in Lee and Charlotte counties, the worst hit in the state, have reported an additional 27 deaths.

"I am not saying we are not going to find anybody else. We may find other people," Guthrie said of the second search.

Some 43,000 linemen and support staff were working to restore power to more than 600,000 homes and businesses that remained without electricity, he said. About 3.3 million homes and businesses initially lost power during the storm, he said.

Lee County, home to Fort Myers, experienced some of the worst destruction. Emergency officials have come under criticism from residents for a perceived delay in issuing an evacuation order, as the storm jogged southward from its earlier expected target of Tampa, which remained relatively unscathed.

"Emergency management directors do not have a crystal ball. I believe Lee County made the best decision they could, at the time," Guthrie said, noting that evacuation decisions are made at the local level.

The head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Colonel Gene Spaulding, warned residents to stay off roads in order to make it easier for emergency responders and power crews to gain access. Some roads remain under water and others that might seem safe could have all the earth washed out underneath the asphalt, he said.

"Don't assume it is safe," he said.

Read more:

GRAPHIC-Hurricane Ian batters the Gulf Coast

FACTBOX-Hurricane Ian damage: death toll and latest snapshot of Florida impact

FACTBOX-Over 570,000 still without power in Florida after Hurricane Ian

Insurers may face up to $57 billion in Hurricane Ian bills - Verisk

Scenes from Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian

(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago and Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Jonathan Oatis)