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Weakened storm Ian sweeps north while death toll mounts in Florida

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A weakened Hurricane Ian moved up through the Carolinas into Virginia on Saturday as the death toll in Florida from one of the biggest storms to hit the state continued to rise.

By the time Ian entered North Carolina it had reduced in strength from a category-one hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone. However, the National Hurricane Center warned that residents in North Carolina and Virginia could still see flash flooding “across portions of the central Appalachians and the southern mid-Atlantic”.

On Saturday, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in North Carolina and ordered the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures”.

The president had previously declared an emergency in both Florida and South Carolina.

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At least 45 people have died as a direct result of the storm. In Florida, 21 people are known to have been killed, making it the deadliest storm in the state’s history.

Businesses lie in ruins at Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Others were completely swept away by Hurricane Ian © AP

Florida rescue workers are continuing to work through the debris of the storm, particularly in south-west Florida’s Lee County, home to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, where the storm hit as a category-four hurricane pummeling the area with 150 mile-per-hour winds.

In South Carolina, the storm struck as a category-one hurricane and damage was not as great as had been feared. However, Charleston mayor’s John Tecklenburg reported that his city had still noted “significant” effects from the storm, including road closures, flooding damage and lost power.

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In South Carolina, tens of thousands of customers did not have power on Saturday morning. In North Carolina and Virginia, more than 400,000 customers were without power.

Yet the biggest impact was still in Florida, where on Saturday morning 1.3mn customers did not have power.

A vehicle is driven down a flooded road in Arcadia, Florida © Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times via

The storm hit southwestern Florida on Wednesday. In Lee County, which had the highest death toll in the state and some of the most extensive damage, questions were being asked about why officials did not order a mandatory evacuation of the area until Tuesday morning. Other coastal counties had ordered evacuations on Monday evening.

On Saturday, Florida rescue workers were still assessing the extent of the debris and the damage, warning that the number of deaths from the storm could rise as rescue operations continued.

Across the area, dangerous surges and fierce winds knocked down homes and severed part of a key bridge connecting Sanibel Island to the mainland.

As rescue efforts continue in Florida and South Carolina, Ian is forecast to continue moving north into Virginia, where it is expected to finally dissipate sometime on Saturday afternoon.

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