TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida officials on Friday gave a glimpse into the death toll following Hurricane Ian: 20 unconfirmed deaths, 1 confirmed fatality and an unknown number of drownings in one house.
Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s emergency management director, explained during a morning press briefing in Tallahassee that the state is trying to verify whether 20 of the deaths were as a result of the storm, or unrelated causes.
But the number could soon tick up. Guthrie said search and rescue efforts continue and that at least one undisclosed location in Lee County, there is an unknown number of apparent drowning victims. Sanibel and Captiva islands, which Ian cut off from the mainland, are in that county.
“Let me paint the picture for you. The water up over the rooftop and we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identity what appeared to be human remains,” Guthrie said. “We want to be transparent, but we just don’t know that number.”
President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Ian “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history,” an assessment that Gov, Ron DeSantis said did not agree with at a press briefing on Thursday night.
The deadliest hurricane in Florida history was the 1928 storm that struck Palm Beach County, killing more than 2,500 people.
“I don’t think we will be anywhere approaching that,” DeSantis said.
The number of fatalities has been difficult to discern in the wake of the storm, DeSantis said Thursday, but that there is the “potential for significant fatalities.”
The number of people who are missing or in need of rescue also remains unclear. But police and rescue crews have been going door to door checking on people who are visibly in need since early Thursday morning.
About 20,000 people have filled out a survey to notify state officials that they would be sheltering in place. Half of them have been contacted and been reported safe, DeSantis said.