Florida, Carolinas face massive cleanup after Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian pummelled South Carolina with wind speeds of 140kmh. PHOTO: REUTERS

FORT MYERS/CHARLESTON - Florida, North and South Carolina faced a massive cleanup on Saturday from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian, after one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US mainland caused tens of billions of dollars in damage and killed dozens.

New images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed several beach cottages and a motel building that lined the shores of Florida's Sanibel Island were wiped away by Ian's storm surge.

Even though most homes were still standing, they appeared to have roof damage, the images showed.

Ian, now a post-tropical cyclone, continued to weaken on Saturday morning but is still forecast to bring treacherous conditions to parts of the Central Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic, according to the National Hurricane Centre, which added that flood watches were in effect across southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia.

The storm struck Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday, turning beach towns into disaster areas.

On Friday, it pummelled waterfront Georgetown, north of the historic city of Charleston in South Carolina, with wind speeds of 140kmh.

Roads were flooded and blocked by trees while a number of piers were damaged.

Over 1.6 million homes and businesses were without power in the Carolinas, Virginia and Florida at 11am Eastern Time (11pm Singapore time) on Saturday, according to tracking website PowerOutage.us.

Both the number of casualties and repair costs remain unclear, but the extent of the damage was becoming apparent as Florida entered its third day after Ian first hit.

An aerial view of a partially collapsed Sanibel Causeway, on Sanibel Island, Florida. PHOTO: REUTERS

There were at least 35 deaths in Florida's Lee County alone that were attributable to the hurricane, the county sheriff's office said in a Facebook Post on Saturday morning. Many of the deceased across Florida were elderly citizens, including a 92-year-old man, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said earlier.

Thousands of people were still unaccounted for, officials said, but many of them were likely in shelters or without power.

Destroyed houses in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. PHOTO: AFP

"Those older homes that just aren't as strong built, they got washed into the sea," Governor Ron DeSantis said on Friday. "If you are hunkering down in that, that is something that I think would be very difficult to be survivable."

Meanwhile, insurers braced for a hit of between US$28 billion and US$47 billion (S$40 billion to S$67 billion), in what could be the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, according to US property data and analytics company CoreLogic.

People clear debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. PHOTO: AFP

US President Joe Biden has approved a disaster declaration, making federal resources available to counties impacted by the storm.

"We're just beginning to see the scale of that destruction. It's likely to rank among the worst ... in the nation's history," he said.

Biden also declared an emergency in North Carolina on Saturday. REUTERS

Hurricane Ian struck Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday, turning beach towns into disaster areas. PHOTO: REUTERS

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