East Coast cleans up in Ian’s wake

84 deaths reported as storm’s remnants drench Northeast

Battered and flooded residences are shown after Hurricane Ian leaves behind widespread damage across Pine Island, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. -- Hurricane Ian may be long gone from Florida, but workers on the ground were pushing ahead Tuesday to restore power and search for anyone still trapped inside flooded or damaged homes.

The number of storm-related deaths has risen to at least 84 in recent days, both because of the dangers posed by cleaning up and as search and rescue crews comb through the hardest-hit areas. As of Monday, officials said more than 2,350 people had been rescued throughout the state.

At least 75 people were killed in Florida, five in North Carolina, three in Cuba and one in Virginia since Ian made landfall Sept. 27. There have been deaths in vehicle wrecks, drownings and accidents.

In hardest-hit Lee County, Fla., all 45 people killed by the hurricane were over age 50.

As floodwaters begin to recede, power restoration has become job one.

In Naples, Kelly Sedgwick said her electricity was restored four days after the hurricane slammed into her community of roughly 22,000 people.

A few miles north along the coast in Bonita Springs, Catalina Mejilla's family wasn't as lucky. She was still using a borrowed generator to try to keep her kids and their grandfather cool as temperatures in the typically humid area reached the upper 80s.

"The heat is unbearable," Mejilla said. "When there's no power ... we can't make food, we don't have gas." Her mother has trouble breathing and needed to go to a friend's house with electricity.

Ian knocked out power to 2.6 million customers across Florida. State officials said they expect power to be restored by Sunday to customers whose power lines and other electric infrastructure are still intact.

About 400,000 homes and businesses in Florida were still without power Tuesday.

Eric Silagy, chairman and CEO of Florida Power & Light -- the largest power provider in the state -- said 21,000 utility workers from 30 states are working as hard as they can to restore power as quickly as possible. The utility expects to have power restored to 95% of its service areas by the end of the day Friday, he said.

The remaining 5% are mostly special situations where it's difficult to restore electricity, such as the home being so damaged it can't receive power or the area still being flooded. Those outages don't include customers whose homes or businesses were destroyed.

Another major electricity provider in the hard-hit coastal region, Lee County Electric Cooperative, said Monday it expects to hit the 95% mark by the end of Saturday. That figure doesn't include barrier islands such as Sanibel that are in its service area.

Silagy said the utility has invested $4 billion over the last 10 years to improve its infrastructure, doing things like burying more power lines, noting that 40% of its distribution system is now underground. He said he saw during Ian where those investments paid off.

Concrete utility poles remained standing at Fort Myers Beach, where many homes and businesses were wiped away. The company also didn't lose a single transmission structure in the 8,000 miles it covers in Florida.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden plan to visit Florida today. The president was in Puerto Rico, promising Monday to "rebuild it all" after Hurricane Fiona knocked out all power to the island two weeks ago.

Elsewhere, the hurricane's remnants, now a nor'easter, were not done with the United States. Heavy rain fell Tuesday from Philadelphia to Boston.

The coastal storm is expected to move out of the region today, after bringing flooding and high winds to New Jersey, the Delmarva Peninsula and other parts of the Mid-Atlantic region over the past few days.

The deluge is likely to help relieve drought conditions in New Jersey and elsewhere, said Richard Heim, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An area along the Virginia-North Carolina border saw major flooding Monday.

"If people had not heeded warnings, I think it could have been a lot worse," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday as he reviewed how his state dealt with the storm.

Officials in Virginia Beach, which had declared a flooding emergency, said the city was resuming normal operations Tuesday morning, though officials would continue to monitor the impact of the storm for possible flooding in the next few tidal cycles.

Tiffany Russel, a spokeswoman for the city, said that even though parts of the Chesapeake Bay region experienced major flooding Monday afternoon, "impacts were minimal." Homes and businesses on the shores of the bay were flooded by a similar storm last October.

Information for this article was contributed by Rebecca Santana, Bobby Caina Calvan, Frieda Frisaro, David Fischer, Mike Schneider, Gary D. Robertson and Jeffrey Collins of The Associated Press and by Ava Sasani of The New York Times.

  photo  Structural and property damage left in the wake of Hurricane Ian is seen in Pine Island, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)