PUNTA GORDA: Ian, downgraded to a tropical storm, continued its destructive path towards South Carolina on Thursday after devastating the coasts of Florida, for the most part still plunged into darkness, and causing catastrophic flooding.
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) announced around 5 a.m. (0900 GMT) that Ian had weakened into a tropical storm capable of winds of up to 105 km / h, while stressing that the risk of “waves of potentially deadly storm”, or a rise in sea levels on the coast, would remain significant until Friday along the coasts of Florida as well as the neighboring states of Georgia and South Carolina.
Slightly away from the hurricane’s path, near the US archipelago of the Keys, poor conditions capsized a boat carrying migrants. Coastguards were looking for another 20 people, with three rescued and four others managing to swim to shore.
Ian hit the coast of Cayo Costa in southwest Florida at 3:00 p.m. Wednesday (1900 GMT) while still an “extremely dangerous” hurricane with winds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h). It caused “catastrophic” flooding there, the National Hurricane Center said.
Faced with the extent of the damage, US President Joe Biden declared a state of major natural disaster on Thursday morning, a decision to release additional federal funds for the affected regions.
Some 2.6 million homes or businesses were also still without electricity Thursday morning in Florida, out of a total of 11 million, mainly around the path of the hurricane, according to the specialized site PowerOutage.
The town of Punta Gorda thus spent the night in darkness. Only a few buildings equipped with generators were able to remain lit, the only noises around being the roar of the wind and the pouring rain.
The city had previously experienced a brief respite during the passage of the eye of the hurricane. But the squalls and the rain came back with even more force, toppling road signs and washing away pieces of roofs and tree branches.
Jacksonville airport announced it would close for the day Thursday, and those in Tampa and Orlando had ceased all commercial flights Wednesday evening.
In Naples, images from the MSNBC channel showed completely flooded streets and cars floating in the current.
The Southwest Florida town’s fire chief, Pete DiMara, told CNN that his fire station was suddenly flooded by up to two meters of water, preventing his crews from responding to calls. emergency.
This sudden rise in water “has certainly caused a lot of damage in the area,” he said, calling on residents to stay at home until firefighters can rescue them.
In Fort Myers, a city of more than 80,000 people, flooding was so severe that some neighborhoods looked like lakes.
The flood has sometimes exceeded three meters, announced Wednesday evening the governor of the State, Ron DeSantis.
Ian is expected to emerge over the western Atlantic by the end of the day, according to the NHC, which forecasts further light reinforcement of Ian, which “could approach hurricane strength when ‘it will arrive near the coast of South Carolina on Friday’.
Ron DeSantis said it was probably “one of the five strongest hurricanes to ever hit Florida”.
“This is a storm that will be talked about for many years to come,” NWS Director Ken Graham said at a press conference.
Some 3,200 members of the National Guard have been called to Florida, according to the Pentagon, and another 1,800 are on the way.
Hurricane Ian earlier hit Cuba on Tuesday, killing two people and plunging the island into darkness. On Wednesday, power was restored for some residents of Havana and 11 other provinces but not in the three most affected in the west of the country.
As the surface of the oceans warms, the frequency of the most intense hurricanes, with stronger winds and greater precipitation, increases, but not the total number of hurricanes.
According to Gary Lackmann, professor of atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State University, in the United States, several studies have demonstrated a “possible link” between climate change and a phenomenon known as “rapid intensification — when a relatively weak tropical storm strengthens into a Category 3 or greater hurricane within 24 hours, as was the case with Ian.
“A consensus remains that there will be fewer storms in the future, but that the biggest ones will be more intense,” the scientist told AFP.
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