By Darren Lyn
HOUSTON, US (AA) - Hurricane Ian left a deadly and destructive path in its wake as it barreled through Florida on Thursday and is now targeting the US states of South Carolina and Georgia as a Category 1 storm.
Thousands of residents are in need of emergency rescue, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announcing more than 700 people being rescued so far and hundreds more feared dead in what he called a historic "500-year flooding event" caused by the hurricane.
"We’ve never seen a flood event like this. We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude, and it hit an area where there's a lot of people in a lot of those low-lying areas," DeSantis said at a news conference.
Ian's heavy winds destroyed buildings and scattered boats along the Florida coastline. The hurricane produced heavy rains and a massive storm surge that flooded homes and washed away cars.
People could be seen stranded on rooftops waiting for emergency helicopter rescue throughout the day, but with so many thousands in need of help as nightfall arrived, the situation remained dire.
"This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida's history," said President Joe Biden at a news conference. "The numbers are still unclear, but we're hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life."
Nearly 2.6 million households were without electricity and the financial toll from Ian is estimated between $25 and $40 billion in early assessments.
The Category 1 hurricane is now tracking toward South Carolina and Georgia, which have declared states of emergency ahead of the storm.
"There is a danger of life-threatening storm surge from #Ian through Friday along the coasts of northeast Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina," tweeted the National Weather Service.
Ian was churning slowly Thursday night, moving toward the north-northeast at about 10 miles (16 kilometers) per hour with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour and is expected to batter South Carolina with heavy rains and possible flooding sometime on Friday.
“A turn toward the north is expected...followed by a turn toward the north-northwest," the National Hurricane Center announced. "On the forecast track, Ian will approach the coast of South Carolina on Friday. The center will move farther inland across the Carolinas Friday night and Saturday."
Ian made landfall along Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour, which is tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane to strike the US when measured by wind speed.