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Water and electricity could be restored by Sunday to all the homes, businesses, schools and hospitals in Southwest Florida that are structurally sound after the devastation of Hurricane Ian, authorities said Monday.
“We’ve laid out a very good plan,” Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said.
About 520,000 homes and businesses remained in the dark Monday morning, five days after the storm tore through the state's Gulf Coast.
Schools in 13 counties remained closed, but all counties in Southwest Florida expected to be fully back by the end of the week, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said. Lee, DeSoto, Charlotte, Sarasota and Hardee counties have “the most to deal with,” Diaz said.
The death toll from Ian climbed to at least 78 people, according to the Associated Press: 71 confirmed fatalities in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba, where Ian made its first landfall Tuesday. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass said Monday that there were at least 58 confirmed deaths in the state.
Over 1,900 people have been rescued in Florida statewide since the storm struck the state, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said during a press conference Monday. Search and rescue efforts are ongoing.
BEFORE AND AFTER: A look at Hurricane Ian's damage in Florida
IAN, FIONA SHATTERED HOPES FOR A QUIET HURRICANE SEASON: What's next?
AFTER HURRICANE IAN CAME THE FLOODS: These people rallied to rescue residents, horses, cows
Power restored to 95% of Floridians, DeSantis says
Power has been restored to over 2 million Florida residents, DeSantis said Monday.
“Right now, statewide, 95% of customers have power,” the governor said at a press conference Monday. “We're down to only 5% of customers without.”
About 550,000 homes and businesses in Florida were still without electricity on Monday morning, down from a peak of 2.6 million.
The worst outages continue to affect southwest Florida, DeSantis said, where Hurricane Ian made landfall last week.
58% of Charlotte County residents don’t have power, according to the governor, along with 55% of Lee County residents.
Elon Musk provides satellite internet service for residents impacted by Ian
Florida is in the process of deploying 375 satellite devices provided by Elon Musk to restore internet in areas hit by Hurricane Ian, DeSantis said Monday.
The internet technology, called Starlink, is a broadband internet service, specializing in the expansion of coverage to rural and remote communities by launching a "constellation" of satellites into low Earth orbit via SpaceX rockets.
DeSantis said the satellites allowed him to hold press conferences in rural areas of Florida without difficulty.
“Thanks to your innovative technology, Floridians will be able to better connect with their loved ones,” he wrote on Twitter.
Virginia faces historic flooding
Five days after Hurricane Ian's first U.S. landfall in Florida, the unrelenting storm threatened Monday to trigger some of the worst flooding in more than a decade – almost 1,000 miles away in Virginia.
After blasting through Florida and then pounding the Carolinas, the weakened but still-dangerous storm doused Virginia with rain Monday, and officials warned of potentially severe flooding by Tuesday. The remnants of the once-Category 4 hurricane moved offshore and was merging with a low-pressure system to form a nor’easter expected to drive more water into an already inundated Chesapeake Bay.
Cody Poche, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the result could be the most significant tidal flooding in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region in the last 10 to 15 years.
Norfolk and Virginia Beach declared states of emergency, and Virginia Beach warned residents to "make necessary preparations now should evacuation become necessary." The island town of Chincoteague issued a voluntary evacuation order for its 3,000 residents and was opening a shelter at a local high school.
Southwest Florida sees rise in crime after Ian
Looting and scams are growing concerns across Southwest Florida, authorities said Monday.
As for curbside picking, it's not considered looting – or theft by law, Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said on Facebook.
"We know that there is deep emotional pain in having to throw away personal items that have been ruined by the storm. And it feels like a violation when strangers are going through those things out in the street. It really hurts and can trigger anger, but it’s not unlawful and you should not react with violence or aggression," he said.
He warned pickers not to let their enthusiasm for "free stuff" lead them "beyond the right of way."
"It’s a crime and it’s Florida. Florida homeowners and tenants have rights. Just saying. Be aware," Rambosk said.
And rumors continue to be dispelled, he added. No, the Naples Pier is not totally destroyed and the Sanibel Lighthouse isn't gone.
Although the lighthouse is partly gone, the light remains, he said.
– Laura Layden, Naples Daily News
Florida emergency chief defends controversial evacuation decision
Lee County’s decision not to order evacuations until Tuesday morning – a day after neighboring counties had already warned residents of low-lying areas to leave – was made solely by county officials, Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Monday. The decision to wait overnight to gauge Hurricane Ian’s path apparently clashed with the county’s own planning protocols for ordering residents out even when a minimal risk of serious storm surge could accompany an approaching storm. But Guthrie was supportive of local officials.
“They made the best decision based on the information at the time,” Guthrie said at a Monday briefing in Tallahassee. “When making decisions in a disaster, emergency management directors do not have a crystal ball.”
Gas tax relief a well-timed break for Floridians
Florida's gas tax relief came at just the right time this weekend as the state starts on its long road to recovery after Hurricane Ian. The Florida Motor Fuel Tax Relief Act of 2022 kicked in Saturday and dropped the price of gas to an average of $3.26 per gallon, the lowest daily average price since January. The state's average price per gallon declined 13 cents this week and bolsters the already-steep drop in pump prices since the summer.
"While everyone might not be so lucky to see sub-$3 gasoline, all Floridians should expect a sizeable discount this week," said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins.
– Ana Goñi-Lessan, Tallahassee Democrat
Deployment of newest aircraft carrier delayed by weather
The first deployment of the Navy's newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, which was poised to set sail Monday from Norfolk, Va. Virginia, was postponed because of storm concerns, the Navy 2nd Fleet announced. The new deployment date was not announced. Ford is the flagship of the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, more than 1,000 feet long and accommodating a crew of 4,500. It will ultimately sail in the Atlantic alongside ships from NATO Allies, the Navy said.
Cat rescue goes viral, draws donations
Michael Ross, of Naples, Florida, was in Bonita Springs when Hurricane Ian plowed through. Ross, 29, said he and his family looked out the window and saw a cat clinging to an air conditioning unit. A video of Ross trudging through swirling floodwaters to pluck the cat to safety went viral and has helped draw thousands of dollars in donations.
"I was able to go out there and get it, and it's a good thing I did," Ross said. "After that video was taken, the water came up like another 6 feet. And that air conditioner he was sitting on was underwater."
Ross started a GoFundMe page to support displaced pets and people in need. So far it has drawn more than $22,000. But he hasn't been able to find the owner of the cat yet.
"If we can't find one, I'm gonna keep it," Ross said.
– Tomas Rodriguez, Naples Daily News
After Hurricane Ian was gone, 'all the water came'
Flooding driven by 20 inches of rain dropped by Ian blocked multiple roads in Florida's DeSoto County, turning some neighborhoods into islands. In addition to flooding homes, the waters engulfed a gas station and the Peace River Campground, where about 150 people lived year-round, officials said. Lingering' widespread power outages and poor cell service hampered evacuation efforts via airboats despite the help of the Florida National Guard. Authorities were distributing water and ready-made meals to stranded people who didn't want to leave.
"We know about hurricanes but flooding is a new thing for us," said DeSoto County Commissioner J.C. Deriso. "The storm, our community was pretty well prepared for. But the flood was pretty unexpected. Rivers rise and fall every year. But what we saw was once in a lifetime. At least we hope so."
– Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY
DeSantis seeks expedited recovery effort for '500-year flood event'
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed Sunday for expedited recovery efforts in southwest Florida, heavily damaged from by Ian last week. DeSantis toured some of the areas still experiencing flooding from the storm, surveying damage by boat in North Port in Sarasota County and then Arcadia in DeSoto County. Earlier in the day, he distributed food and water to hurricane victims in Naples in Collier County.
Homes in Arcadia were still flooded up to their rooftops and RVs were almost completely submerged, DeSantis said at a news conference Sunday.
"This was such a big storm, that brought so much water, that you have basically what's been a 500-year flood event here in DeSoto County, and some of the neighboring counties," DeSantis said.
Almost 600,000 homes and businesses across Florida remained without power Monday, according to PowerOutage.us. Florida Power & Light, the state's largest power company, said it had restored electricity to nearly 1.7 million customers and expects to restore the majority of power by Friday.
– Colleen Wixon, Treasure Coast Newspapers
Fort Myers churchgoers share their Ian survival stories
Sunday morning, several dozen seniors trickled into a shattered Fort Myers church not far from where Hurricane Ian made landfall a few days earlier. Outside lay an overturned Jeep and dumpsters blown into a tree line. A nearby discount mall and a mobile home park lay in tatters. Power lines dangled over a road leading to Sanibel Island, cut off by a destroyed bridge.
Under Southwest Baptist’s toppled steeple were soaked floors and holes in the roof. Bible pages fanned out to dry. In the chapel, displaced members slept on makeshift beds made of chairs and boiled water with propane burners.
The church insisted on holding a service – even if it had to be held outside – for a vulnerable community thunderstruck by loss and trauma. Read the full story.
– Chris Kenning, USA TODAY
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz and Nada Hassanein, USA TODAY; Sergio Bustos, USA TODAY Network Florida; Ed Reed and Stacey Henson, Fort Myers News-Press; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hurricane Ian text-only updates: Some Floridians face another week without power