TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that rescuers have been going door-to-door checking on residents in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Ian in southwest Florida.
During a news conference Friday morning at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, DeSantis said rescuers "have gone to more than 3,000 home in the hardest hit areas, going door-to-door to check on the occupants of those residences."
The governor was joined by Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Florida National Guard Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
DeSantis said Charlotte, DeSota, Hardee and Lee counties were among the hardest hit.
He said there is more than 1,000 rescue personnel along the coastline of southwest Florida, and more are starting to search the inland areas.
The governor said Lee County is also dealing with a water main break.
"That means that the county does not have water at this point, and you need that to be able to function in society," DeSantis said.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said her agency is providing support to Lee County.
Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said there are at least 21 total storm-related fatalities, but there are likely to be more. He said there was one instance in which a U.S. Coast Guard diver came upon a home in Lee County that was submerged in water and found what were believed to be human remains inside.
"We do not know exactly how many were in the house. Let me paint the picture for you — the water was up over the rooftop," Guthrie said. "We had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he identified what appeared to be human remains. We don't know exactly how many. We don't know what the situation is and before we comment on that we want to be transparent. We just don't know that number. We've got a couple of other situations where we had that particular type of situation."
The governor said Friday morning that 20,000 Floridians submitted shelter-in-place notices and 10,000 have responded as "safe."
DeSantis toured the damage Thursday in southwest Florida, saying some parts of the area were hit with "biblical storm surge."
In places like Sanibel Island, where the only causeway on and off is unpassable, the National Guard and Coast Guard are landing helicopters to perform search-and-rescue missions.
Guthrie said during a Friday afternoon news conference in Fort Myers the state is bringing in barges to bring in heavy equipment for search and rescue teams and the Florida National Guard.
Hospitals in Lee County have experienced water problems since the hurricane hit the area. However, Guthrie said they have temporarily resolved those issues with temporary water tanks.
"We are ferrying 20,000 gallons of water about five times a day per each hospital," Guthrie said. "We are bringing that water in, I believe, from Lakeland."
DeSantis said more than 700 people have been rescued in Charlotte and Lee counties since operations began Thursday morning.
He also said 42,000 linemen are helping to restore electricity to the more than 2.5 million customers with reported power outages.
There are currently 1.9 million people without power in Florida.
Linemen have already restored power to more than 700,000 accounts in southwest Florida.
DeSantis was in Fort Myers later in the day Friday where he toured more storm damage throughout Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach.
"This has been a really difficult situation," DeSantis said during a Friday afternoon briefing in Fort Myers. "This is something that is going to be a big deal for a long time."
The Florida Department of Emergency Management has activated the State Assistance Information Line to provide an additional resource for residents to receive up-to-date information regarding Hurricane Ian. Residents and visitors can call this toll-free hotline at 1-800-342-3557.
The governor has declared disasters in 13 Florida counties: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas, Sarasota, Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole.
DeSantis is traveling with the nation's FEMA Administrator on Friday. They're planning to make several stops in southwest and central Florida before ending the day in Tallahassee.