Nearly two days after Hurricane Ian struck Florida’s Gulf Coast, officials are continuing rescue and recovery efforts in the region’s hardest-hit areas.
After completing a "hasty" search of homes along the coast, Florida officials on Friday said they will conduct a primary search of residences. The primary search, officials said, will be a more thorough look for those who sheltered in place during the hurricane.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that rescuers searched 3,000 homes on Thursday. Officials are still trying to track down thousands who said they were going to shelter in place. The state said that spotty cellphone service means officials are trying to locate people in person.
"Rescue personnel have gone to more than 3,000 homes in the hardest hit areas, going door to door to check on the occupants of those residences. There are over 1,000 dedicated rescue personnel who are going up and down the coastline. They also are going to be doing more and more inland in some of our counties," DeSantis said.
Both DeSantis and Biden have discussed the cooperation between state and federal officials despite deep political divides.
"It's not just a crisis for Florida, it's an American crisis. We're all in this together and I've spoken to Gov. DeSantis on multiple occasions, as well as this morning, as well as mayors and county officials, both Republican and Democrat from the places most affected," Biden said.
A number of towns, including Fort Myers, are ordering those who rode out the storm in their homes to stay at home. The City of Fort Myers reported that there were many vehicles on roadways on Thursday, making it challenging for officials.
Adding to the difficulties, several barrier islands have lost road access to the mainland. On Thursdays, officials used helicopters to reach Sanibel Island, which has a population of over 6,000 people.
The U.S. Coast Guard used helicopters on Thursday to conduct rescues on Sanibel Island. Brendan McPherson, a U.S. Coast Guard commander, said in total, the Coast Guard rescued 95 people on Thursday. He told CNN that rescue operations were resuming at dawn Friday.
Officials said 21 people have died, although they caution that the death toll is preliminary.
Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said officials there are hopeful they have reached everyone who needed rescued.
“We have rescued upwards of 200 people so far, talked to the fire chief yesterday, he feels pretty comfortable that we’ve gotten everybody," Anderson told CNN early Friday.
Nearly 1.9 million Florida residents remained without power as of Friday morning.
Calm weather is expected on Friday in Southwest Florida as Hurricane Ian made landfall in South Carolina.