After slamming Florida, Hurricane Ian barrels into South Carolina

By Elizabeth Wolfe, Travis Caldwell, Christina Walker, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond and Seán Federico O'Murchú, CNN

Updated 10:02 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022
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9:17 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022

Orlando nurse carried out of floodwaters by news reporter

From CNN’s Amanda Musa

Nurse Tonya McCullough was on her way to work for an overnight shift at a Downtown Orlando hospital when her car got stuck in the floodwaters as Hurricane Ian passed through early Thursday morning.

WESH reporter Tony Atkins and his camera operator who were nearby jumped into action, picking up McCullough, carrying her from the car and helping her escape.

“The fact that he was there — I know that was God because it was dark. There were no police cars or ambulances or fire trucks. There was no one else around to help me at that moment and he was available immediately,” McCullough told CNN's Erin Burnett on Friday night.

After the rescue, McCullough still worked a 16-hour shift and was able to meet up with Atkins on Friday morning.

"It was so emotional to see him because I did not get the opportunity to express my thanks and gratefulness and let him know he was my hero, my champion, my knight in shining armor," she said.

Watch the rescue caught on camera:

9:44 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022

“We are facing a tragedy": Charlotte County official says much more assistance is needed

From CNN’s Amanda Musa

Charlotte County is in desperate need of help despite the assistance it has already received following the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian, according to Claudette Smith, public information officer for the sheriff's office.

The county in southwest Florida is home to the city of Punta Gorda.

Smith described the situation as a national disaster with many people without homes or surviving without electricity or water supplies. "We are facing a tragedy," she told CNN's Jake Tapper on Friday.

“We need everything, to put it plain and simple. We need everything. We need all hands on deck,” Smith said. “The people who have come to our assistance have been tremendously helpful, but we do need everything.”

The only operating hospital in the county is overwhelmed and not accepting new patients, — something Smith said was "devastating" for the area.

The county sheriff's information officer said residents should still call 911 if there is an emergency.

“Our medical professionals in Charlotte County are going to be able to find those services. They're not going to turn you away,” she said. “If they have to triage you in the ambulance, they're going to do so, and they're also transporting people out of the county to those medical facilities.”

9:44 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022

Death toll in Florida climbs to 45, according to CNN's tally

From CNN’s Joe Sutton

The death toll from Hurricane Ian has climbed to at least 45 after the Medical Examiners Commission of Florida identified three additional deaths in three counties.  

This brings CNN’s count to at least 45 storm-related deaths attributable to the storm system that crashed ashore on Wednesday, based on a combination of state and county reporting.  

Friday morning Gov. Ron DeSantis listed 21 deaths in various counties. A number of counties have since updated their numbers.

9:44 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022

"It's a nightmare": Resident recalls storm surge that crashed ashore and leveled most of Fort Myers Beach

Damage to homes on Fort Myers Beach seen on September 29.
Damage to homes on Fort Myers Beach seen on September 29. (Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post/USA Today Network)

Kevin Behen, a resident of Fort Myers Beach, described on Friday the nightmare experience for him and many his friends when the storm surge propelled by Hurricane Ian crashed ashore on the community in southwest Florida.

"I saw it all happen. Houses are floating in the back bay, people are on their roofs," Behen told CNN, estimating the storm surge on Wednesday got up to 25 feet high.

He noted "Everybody is going through a real bad time now. But it's unimaginable to see 25 feet of water come rushing through. It was like a dam broke. It was taking everything."

Behan said he was able to get out of his home and into a solid building because he "knew something was going to go wrong" — but he said many other people were not as lucky.

"What I saw is just heart-breaking, and all the friends I lost and everybody else — the stories are horrific. It's a nightmare. This island is destroyed," Behen said.

At least 45 people have been reported dead so far due to the storm across the state. Search and rescue efforts are underway in the worst-hit areas of Florida.

"There's nothing left. The storm surge is like a wave. I've never seen anything like this in my life," he said.
9:07 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022

Port Tampa Bay reopens and resumes all vessel operation

From CNN’s Raja Razek

Port Tampa Bay has reopened and is returning to normal operation, according to a statement from the port, saying it has been "cleared to resume all vessel operations."

The docks, wharfs and terminals have been fully assessed, the statement said, and commercial vessel traffic is being queued for a return to full operation. 

"Few people understand the full impact a seaport has on their daily lives until a crisis hits," said Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay President and CEO.

Anderson said the port provides more than $17 billion in economic impact and "touches some 85,000 jobs in our community."

"Additionally, our port serves as a major energy gateway, providing nearly half of Florida with its fuel supply," according to Anderson.

8:05 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022

US Coast Guard has rescued more than 275 people in Florida, senior officer says

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch

Residents of Sanibel Island are moved to a waiting US Coast Guard helicopter on Friday, September 30.
Residents of Sanibel Island are moved to a waiting US Coast Guard helicopter on Friday, September 30. (Steve Helber/AP)

The US Coast Guard has rescued more than 275 people in Florida, according to Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson, but the post-storm conditions remain a huge challenge.

He noted that hundreds of other rescues were being performed by urban search and rescue teams from FEMA and local and state agencies.

“We’re flying and we’re operating in areas that are unrecognizable. There’s no street signs. They don’t look like they used to look like. Buildings that were once benchmarks in the community are no longer there,” he told CNN on Friday.

McPherson said the Coast Guard is treating the storm aftermath like a military operation by searching block by block to make sure those who need assistance are helped.

“What we are finding is that many of the people are not critically injured and they're not in immediate distress, but they’re stranded," he said. "They’re stuck on islands, either man-made islands that have been there for some time that are surrounded by water, but more importantly, those areas that weren’t islands before and now they are surrounded by water,” he said. 

A US Coast Guard helicopter is seen amid stranded shrimp boats in a marina in Fort Myers Beach, Florida on Friday.
A US Coast Guard helicopter is seen amid stranded shrimp boats in a marina in Fort Myers Beach, Florida on Friday. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

7:06 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022

Fort Myers Beach mayor says residents may be able to return on Monday

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar

An aerial view of damaged properties after Hurricane Ian caused widespread destruction in Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
An aerial view of damaged properties after Hurricane Ian caused widespread destruction in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The mayor of Fort Myers Beach said residents may be allowed reentry on Monday.

“So that’s a date we can shoot for. We don’t want to keep anybody off any longer than we have to,” Mayor Ray Murphy said in a Facebook post.  

The mayor said the community — located on Estero Island in Lee County, Florida — took a hard hit from Hurricane Ian. 

“There’s a lot of devastation down here,” he said. “The good news is, is that the island is crawling with emergency people right now.”

Crews are working to clear roadways, and search and rescue teams are searching neighborhoods, the mayor said.

“There is no way to sugar coat it – there’s just a hell of a lot to do down here. But we’re up to the task,” Murphy added. 

6:26 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022

Destruction from Hurricane Ian could complicate midterm voting in parts of Florida

From CNN's Fredreka Schouten

Elections officials in portions of Florida hard hit by Hurricane Ian are scrambling to meet a fast-approaching deadline to begin sending out absentee ballots and are working to develop contingency plans for November’s general election.

In Lee County, Florida – home to Fort Myers, which saw homes and businesses torn apart and flooded this week by the powerful storm – Elections Supervisor Tommy Doyle said the county’s election equipment and voting material survived Ian, but his facilities lack power. 

An immediate priority, he told CNN on Friday, was ensuring that the county would meet the Oct. 6 deadline under state law to mail out about 180,000 absentee ballots to Florida residents who already have requested them. The Bonita Springs, Florida, vendor handling the work already had completed about half the project when the storm hit, Doyle said, but currently lacks electrical power to finish the job.

If the power is not restored by Sunday, Doyle said he plans to shift the work to the East Coast of the state in an effort to meet the deadline.

Leon County Elections Supervisor Mark Earley, who is president of the state association for Florida’s 67 election supervisors, said counties affected by the hurricane are still “assessing the situation,” but said their main offices and warehouses “survived intact and remarkably well.” 

Officials, however, will have to come up with contingency plans, especially in Lee County, for in-person voting later this fall, following the likely destruction of polling places, he said.

Earley said those options include establishing consolidated voting centers and encouraging Floridians displaced by the storm to vote by mail. Oct. 29 is the deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot in Florida. 

6:24 p.m. ET, September 30, 2022

After touring Florida storm damage, FEMA administrator says more residents will be eligible for assistance

From CNN’s Andy Rose

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will be expanding the number of Florida counties where residents will be eligible for federal help, the top administrator said Friday.

“We will add more counties for assistance,” Deanne Criswell said at a news conference in St. Augustine following a storm damage tour. The work to identify which counties need help is ongoing, she said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was also at the news conference, said the state is asking for more help from FEMA, saying that Hurricane Ian impacted more communities than first anticipated.

“When they meander across the peninsula, you're hitting all these different communities, and there's a lot of impacts that have a trickle effect all across the state,” DeSantis said.

Currently, 13 Florida counties — mostly in southwest and central Florida — are eligible for individual assistance through FEMA.