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After wreaking devastation across Florida, Ian is on track to hit South Carolina

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hurricane Ian is not done yet. After devastating parts of Florida, it is on track to hit South Carolina today, although it's far weaker than the storm that came ashore near Fort Myers Wednesday.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yesterday, communities from Naples to St. Petersburg started to figure out just how much damage has been done. Insurance claims by homeowners and businesses are expected to be as high as 40 to $50 billion.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen visited some of the hardest-hit areas yesterday and joins us to talk about it. Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Where is the damage the worst?

ALLEN: Well, Lee and Charlotte counties are the areas that were hit hardest by the storm. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was there to survey the damage yesterday. He called it indescribable.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: To see a house just sitting in the middle of Estero Bay, literally must have gotten picked up, flown because of the massive wind speed and the storm surge.

ALLEN: The worst areas are the barrier islands that took the brunt of the storm surge. On Fort Myers Beach, houses were just wiped away, leaving only slabs behind. Boats were tossed around and piled up in the marinas and on land by the storm surge. On Sanibel Island, several sections of the community's only causeway were washed away. That leaves residents there without power or water and cut off from the mainland. But despite that, DeSantis says some residents have declined offers by rescue crews on Sanibel to get them to safety.

MARTIN: There were lots of people, though, who did need help, right?

ALLEN: Right. DeSantis said at least 700 people were rescued from flooded homes. The number may be even higher. In Charlotte County, the NPR crew saw standing water as much as 6-foot deep in some communities.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We got the boats.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Woo-hoo (ph).

ALLEN: In North Port, that's the sound of a group of neighbors who were using small boats to ferry people, pets and possessions out of flooded homes. Craig Brown, his wife Kelly and son Jonas used their two kayaks to paddle themselves, their dog and their two cats to safety. Kelly Brown says when the Ian's storm surge hit, the neighborhood's canals flooded, bringing more than 3 foot of water into their home.

KELLY BROWN: It got to be about this much in the house, and then all of a sudden, it really started rushing in. So then we had to get out.

ALLEN: How did they get you out?

BROWN: If you have family or somebody that has a kayak, or some people are getting themselves out.

ALLEN: By the afternoon, a local crew had arrived to help people get to safety. But there are many stories like that and just so many thousands of homes that were flooded and damaged here.

MARTIN: Yeah. I was checking in with a friend of mine in Naples, and she sent a text to me saying, quote, "everything is a total loss." And these photos of her family's house, just destroyed, with all this flooding. I mean, and this story of personal loss and the ones you heard about thousands of times over, which is hard to absorb, but what about infrastructure, Greg? I imagine that's just been devastated, too.

ALLEN: Well, you know, it's interesting. It could have been worse, is kind of a bit of the sense. Driving through the area yesterday, it was surprising how most roads were largely clear of debris. Traffic was flowing on Interstate 75, which is a major artery. There are those two bridges out, one to Sanibel and one to another island. The Fort Myers Beach pier was destroyed. A major problem in Fort Myers area is the rupture of a major water main. But power is coming back here slowly. Over 2 million customers are still without power. But 200,000 customers got their service back yesterday in southwest Florida. Still, there are certain areas, like the barrier islands, where there was so much destruction the infrastructure will just have to be rebuilt up almost from the ground. And DeSantis says cellphone service should improve as phone companies bring in portable cell towers here.

MARTIN: Any word on fatalities?

ALLEN: No official word yet, although Governor DeSantis indicated one will be coming. Reports from local officials are bringing it to more than a dozen dead, a number that's likely to grow. There are a lot of concerns now about avoiding post-storm fatalities, things from improper use of generators, chainsaws and other accidents. In some past storms, those have accounted for more than people who died actually in the storm itself.

MARTIN: So be careful. NPR's Greg Allen in St. Petersburg. Thanks for your reporting, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.