Published On: Mon, Oct 3rd, 2022

At least 100 dead from Hurricane Ian as Florida’s top emergency official defends Lee County on delayed evacuations

Hurricane Ian’s death toll reached 100 Monday as Florida’s top emergency administrator pushed back on growing criticism of Lee County officials who were allegedly slow to evacuate low-lying communities.

The latest death count included 96 fatalities in Florida and four in North Carolina. Lee County, where officials didn’t order evacuations until Tuesday, accounted for 54 of the deaths in Florida. Ian made landfall Wednesday, devastating Fort Myers and Sanibel Island.

“I believe Lee County and their administration …. made the best decision they felt was right for their community at that time,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “And I will never second-guess a local emergency manager on their decision.”

While other nearby jurisdictions took such action one or two days earlier than Lee County, he refused to critique the decisions.

“Emergency management directors do not have a crystal ball,” Guthrie told reporters. “They made the best decision on the information they had at the time.”

A representative of the Lee County Manager’s Office could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

Lugo Elieser and his wife, Mara, who kept a boat docked nearby, look at the destroyed bridge leading to Pine Island in Matlacha, Fla., on Sunday. The only bridge to the island is heavily damaged, so it can only be reached by boat or air. Gerald Herbert / AP

Huge swaths of southwest and central Florida were still struggling to pick up the pieces and turn on lights days after Ian blew through their communities last week.

Florida residents, left without power in the wake of Ian, could be in the dark for the rest of the week — if they dodged major storm damage.

There were 621,000 homes and businesses without power Monday, officials said. In those houses and commercial buildings where “infrastructure is still standing,” power should be back by Sunday, officials said.

Authorities also asked Floridians to stay home and out of the way of rescue and cleanup crews Monday.

“If you don’t need to be on the roadways, don’t be on the roadways,” said Col. Gene Spaulding, the director of the Florida Highway Patrol.

He also warned motorists that a multitude of roads and bridges are still not safe for passage.

“We still have several roadways that are under water. Keep in mind that just because the water recedes, don’t necessarily mean the roadway is safe to travel on,” Spaulding said.

“There is high likelihood of washouts under the asphalt, under the roadways. So please don’t try to drive around barricades.”

Image: Florida's Southern Gulf Coast Continues Clean Up Efforts In Wake Of Hurricane Ian
People remove storm-damaged items from a home Sunday in Bonita Springs, Fla.Sean Rayford / Getty Images

Remnants of the one-time Category 4 storm continued to douse the mid-Atlantic on Monday with rain. About 16 million were under flood alerts in coastal North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

High winds and rain will continue in these communities Monday and Tuesday with up to 3 inches in coastal regions and up to an inch in more inland areas.

High winds were expected to blow through Norfolk, Virginia (45 mph), Atlantic City, New Jersey (34 mph), Washington, D.C., (36 mph), New York (29 mph) and Boston (29 mph) on Monday.

Alex Lo contributed.

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