Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described Hurricane Ian as a "500-year flood event," during a news conference Thursday morning in which he gave an update on the catastrophic damage the storm has caused.
"The amount of water that's been rising and will likely continue to rise today, even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500-year flood event," DeSantis said. "Seminole County has done evacuations and opened shelters, but we're going to see a lot of images about the destruction that was done in southwest Florida.
"People should just understand that this storm is having broad impacts across the state and some of the flooding you're going to see in areas hundreds of miles from where this made landfall are going to set records."
DeSantis said rescue efforts are initially focusing on barrier islands and areas close to inlets and rivers, and that first responders on the local, state, and federal levels were deployed.
According to DeSantis, hospitals ran on generator power overnight, and two healthcare facilities were evacuated to locations further north.
There are 2.02 million reported power outages statewide, DeSantis said, with 1.5 million in seven southwest Florida counties.
"Lee and Charlotte are basically off the grid at this point," DeSantis said. "The Charlotte and Lee reconnects are really going to likely have to be rebuilding that infrastructure. There are linemen, there are crews, that are on their way down right now, but that's going to be more than just connecting a power line back to a pole."
In Sarasota County, 250,000 are without power, and in Hillsborough there are 222,000. Power outages in Pinellas total 150,000, and in Manatee there are 129,000 without power.
According to DeSantis, 100 portable cell towers are being sent to southwest Florida to help restore communications.
DeSantis said that, so far, nine counties have received a major disaster declaration from the federal government: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota.
"I just spoke with the president this morning, he offered support," he said. "I told him thanks for this, but because the storm has moved inland and caused a lot of potential damage in the center part of our state, that we are going to be asking for those counties to be expanded.
"That will allow individual Floridians to seek individual assistance from FEMA. That's going to be something that's going to be necessary."
DeSantis said 300 truckloads of food and water were dispatched to southwest Florida and that most schools should be able to reopen on Friday or Monday, depending on the severity of storm damage.
"As people emerge this morning, particularly in the areas that were hard hit, just understand this is still a hazardous situation," DeSantis said. "Those folks that were in there in the wee hours of the morning were taking big risks as first responders navigating this.
"You have power lines that are down; you have trees that are down; you have a lot of hazards right now."
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