National

In Hurricane Ian's aftermath, the new head of FEMA faces a historic challenge

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Deanne Criswell was in Florida Friday with Gov. Ron DeSantis, assessing the historic damage from Hurricane Ian and facing her biggest challenge yet as the new head of FEMA -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Not only is she the first woman to hold that critical job -- the face of FEMA when desperate Americans are demanding help that can never get to them fast enough -- the agency, before her time, has been roundly criticized for not delivering on its core mission.

Will Criswell make a difference when FEMA is needed most? Have lessons been learned so it can respond better now?

On Thursday, she voiced confidence when she joined President Joe Biden at FEMA headquarters in Washington to give an update on Ian's path of destruction, saying her "heart aches" for those whose lives have been devastated.

"As many have said, Hurricane Ian is going to be a storm that we talk about for decades. But from the moment Hurricane Ian became a threat, we already had the right teams in place, who were ready to answer the call of those that need us most," Criswell said, in a no-nonsense style.

Biden referred to Criswell as the "MVP here these days" and observers have told ABC News that Criswell's background makes her uniquely qualified for the high-stakes job.

Criswell served in the Colorado Air National Guard for more than two decades, started her emergency management career in Aurora, Colorado and was most recently the commissioner of the New York City Emergency Management Department before being appointed by Biden to head FEMA.

"She is someone who actually has responded to threats. She has experience in the field, she knows what it's like to be on the frontlines," said Daniel Aldrich, the director of the Security and Resilience Studies Program at Northeastern University.

But Criswell trails a long list of political appointees who have occupied the high-stakes federal operations post, notorious for its historically difficult nature and outsized prominence during the worst days of calamity around the nation.

Memories are still fresh of the fire and ridicule aimed at Michael Brown, FEMA administrator under George W. Bush, for how critics say he mishandled the Hurricane Katrina response, despite Bush famously telling him, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

FEMA's past problems

The agency has become nearly synonymous with the federal government's response to all manner of disasters -- floods, fires, pandemics and more. The scale of its work encompasses billions in funding and direct aid, millions of units of food and water and enormous swaths of temporary housing, among other forms of relief.

"Being there to help clear roads, rebuild main streets and so that families can get back to their lives: That's what FEMA does every single day," President Biden said last year as he announced $1 billion for a FEMA preparedness project amid extreme weather fueled by climate change.

"As my mother would say, 'They're doing God's work,'" Biden said.

But that work has not been without intense controversy -- including with Katrina in 2005, an episode epitomized, to critics, when the agency provided temporary trailers as housing which also included high levels of the carcinogenic formaldehyde. That same issue was later documented in some FEMA trailers provided to victims of wildfires in California in 2007.

Major problems have continued since, though the agency has continued to say it strives to best serve those in need.

FEMA has also been strapped, at various points over the years, both by funding problems and what appears to be an accelerating cycle of weather calamities for which it is called upon to respond.

"They need more people and resources," Eric Holdeman, the director of the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience for the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, told ABC News. "The frequency of disasters, think about wildland fires that we've had, the heat emergencies that have been happening, tornadoes -- all of those end up as they become presidentially declared, FEMA's involved."

In 2020, the president of the union for FEMA employees acknowledged, "The only thing we can liken this to is 2017, which was one of our busiest years in decades. This is far eclipsing 2017."

That same year, however, a watchdog found that FEMA had misplaced $250 million in food and supplies for Puerto Rico after it was hit by two hurricanes, Irma and Maria.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found that FEMA "lost visibility" or failed to fully track nearly 40% of shipments to Puerto Rico with a value of nearly $257 million in meals, water, blankets and other supplies. Of the nearly 10,000 shipping containers sent to Puerto Rico, 19 were never recovered.

Aldrich said a major problem for FEMA after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a lack of pre-positioning resources.

"FEMA did not take advantage of weather forecasting and simulation models to place things like food, water, bulldozers, evacuation shelters, in communities near or on vulnerable sites about being hit by a shock like a hurricane," he said.

Perhaps recognizing the agency's past failures to prepare for extreme weather events, Criswell and Biden have gone to great lengths to highlight the agency's prepositioning ahead of Hurricane Ian.

Speaking at the White House press briefing on Sept. 27, the day before Ian made landfall in Florida, Criswell said they'd already staged hundreds of thousands of gallons of food, millions of liters of water and millions of meals, as well as personnel.

"The preparation for this storm has been extensive and it has been coordinated," she said. "It has been a coordinated effort between FEMA, our federal, our state, and our nonprofit partners."

But just as recently as this summer, in aiding Kentucky after flooding there, FEMA was repeatedly criticized by the state's governor, Andy Beshear, for what he said was a stupefying inability to process aid claims.

"Too many people are being denied," Beshear told reporters in August. "Not enough people are being approved. And this is the time that FEMA's got to get it right. To change what has been a history of denying too many people and not providing enough dollars and to get it right here."

In response, a FEMA spokesman said, in part, according to the Associated Press: "We know these are incredibly difficult times, and we want to help you. We will continue to work to ensure that every eligible applicant receives every dollar of assistance legally possible."

The spokesman said then -- echoing a promise made by FEMA officials through the years of disaster upon disaster in the U.S. -- that responders would remain in Kentucky "as long as it takes."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


'Start Here' takes a look at changes to student loan forgiveness plan

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- On Thursday, the Department of Education scaled back President Joe Biden's federal student loan cancellation program to protect against legal challenges by six states, with new guidelines that excluded at least hundreds of thousands of borrowers initially told they qualified for the program.

The move excludes people who took out federal loans that, while they were guaranteed by the government, were technically handled by private banks.

ABC News' Senior National Policy Reporter Anne Flaherty spoke with "Start Here" Friday about the surprise move, what prompted it and how it will affect Americans with student loan debt.

START HERE: Anne, is it possible that the government pulls like a take-backsy? What is going on here?

ANNE FLAHERTY: You were asking if the president can do this and he can -- up until a point where a judge tells him he can't. So this is pretty much the story of every presidency. Two things we need to know. One, what he did was absolutely unprecedented. The student loan program has been ramping up since the Lyndon B. Johnson days. Basically, no president ever has looked at students and said, "Wait no, never mind. Let's just go ahead and not have you pay back this money. In a sense, a judge could look at this and say, "Hey wait, what are you doing?"

The other thing is he's relying on a lot of what was enacted after 9/11. This was a law that said the president can reduce or erase student loan debt during a national emergency. But he's also the same president who went on national television recently and said the pandemic is over. That's the Republican argument on this.

I don't think it's a coincidence that on the same day Republicans filed this lawsuit we also have the Education Department pull back on aspects of this plan. I think this is legal maneuvering to try and make this stick [and] try to make this work, because we've got an election coming up [and] he wants to keep this.

START HERE: So let's talk about these lawsuits first. I was asking everyone "Can Biden do this?" and everyone said, "Yeah, the Education Department has broad authority." Who is exactly filing the lawsuits and what are they challenging?

FLAHERTY: We've got six states that have filed their case in a federal court in St. Louis. All red states, all conservative, say, "Look, the president is saying the pandemic is over. What's the emergency here? You can't erase these loans." At the same time when you read this complaint in court, it reads like a political statement. It talks about the economy [and] how miserable it is. Why is the president giving a giant stimulus check only to people who went to college?

They say it's patently unfair. The White House is pushing back. They say we're going to fight this. They gave me a statement that said Republicans are working against the interests of middle-class and working-class families. So the next move is by the court.

START HERE: At this moment Anne, who is about to get their loans forgiven and who might not?

FLAHERTY: So everybody was supposed to get loan forgiveness up to a certain point. What's changed here is that we're talking about these federally backed loans that were guaranteed by the federal government but handled by private banks. So Republicans were saying people can be hurt by this move. It's the student loan servicers, servicers that are going to be put at a disadvantage.

START HERE: Private businesses essentially.

FLAHERTY: Right. And so the Education Department quietly changes the language on its website. Before they had said, well, if you can consolidate all these loans that are handled by private banks into these federal direct loans -- is what they call them -- that will qualify for relief. So then they change the website to say, if you have consolidated these loans by Sept. 29 into federal direct loans, then they will qualify.

START HERE: Wait, that was yesterday. They said, like, if you've done it by yesterday?

FLAHERTY: Yes, exactly. So it's a little bit of a wait, what? People are going to be waking up to that and saying, if you have those types of loans. So, you know, overall, the loan relief program is still there. A judge has not blocked it. People should keep moving forward, asking the government for relief on this. They should not stop. We don't know where this is going next. So TBD.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New York AG seeking to expedite fraud suit against Trump and company

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(WASHINGTON) -- New York Attorney General Letitia James wants to accelerate her $250 million fraud lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, his children, his company, and two of its executives.

James, in a letter to the state's chief administrative judge, signaled her intention to push for a trial before 2024 and asked him to keep the civil case before Judge Arthur Engoron, who had presided over disputes between the attorney general and the Trump legal team during the investigation.

The Office of the Attorney General "intends to seek an expedited preliminary conference to set a trial date before the end of 2023," James' letter said. "Allowing for an expedited trial schedule on an enforcement proceeding after extensive litigation over subpoena enforcement is precisely the circumstance that warrants keeping this case before Justice Engoron in the interests of judicial economy."

Trump had asked for the case to be assigned to someone other than Engoron, who earlier held him in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena during the probe.

Trump's attorney, Alina Habba, accused the attorney general's office of trying to keep the case before a friendly judge.

"OAG's actions appear to be nothing less than a deliberate attempt to circumvent the rules of the Individual Assignment System and to 'judge shop,'" Habba said in a letter asking for the case to be reassigned to the Commercial Division of New York State Supreme Court. The AG, in contrast, argues that Engoron is already familiar with the material so for expediency's sake the case should stay with him.

James has accused Trump of "staggering" fraud and alleges that the former president, with the help of his three eldest children and two corporate executives, "grossly inflated" his net worth by billions of dollars.

The lawsuit accuses them of preparing hundreds of fraudulent and misleading financial statements that overstated the values of nearly every major property in the Trump portfolio, thereby convincing banks and insurers to giving Trump better terms than he otherwise would have received.

All of the defendants have denied wrongdoing.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Hurricane Ian live updates: Life-threatening surge predicted for Carolinas

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Ian has regained Category 1 strength with winds at 85 mph as it heads toward South Carolina.

The system had weakened to a tropical storm as it moved over central Florida on Thursday.

The storm made its first landfall on Florida's west coast on Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Sep 30, 1:39 PM EDT
South Carolina power outages rise to 126,000 as Ian approaches

As Ian nears the coast of the Carolinas, more than 126,000 customers in South Carolina and more than 21,000 customers in North Carolina are without power.

Nearly 1.9 million people are still without power in Florida.

Sep 30, 1:19 PM EDT
Tornado threat increases as Ian moves closer to the Carolinas

A tornado threat is increasing as Hurricane Ian gets closer to the coast of the Carolinas.

Myrtle Beach and Greenville, South Carolina; Wilmington, North Carolina and Virginia Beach, Virginia, are all under tornado watch through 10 p.m.

A tornado warning is also in effect south of Wilmington.

Sep 30, 12:51 PM EDT
Biden pledges to do 'whatever it takes' to help restore Florida

President Joe Biden pledged the U.S. would do "whatever it takes," to help Florida recover from Hurricane Ian, stressing the effort would be done as "one nation and one America," during an event at the White House marking the Jewish New Year.

"We're working very closely with the governor and the entire Florida delegation, Democrat and Republican, making sure that we can do everything we can, including now search and rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts, but it’s going to go on for a long while. And whatever it takes, we’re going to be there, as one nation, and one America. We're not going to walk away," Biden said.

Biden noted the time of celebration is also a "very difficult time for so many Jewish families in Florida," and those with loved ones in the state.

"[O]ur heart goes out to everyone there in the state experiencing what could be maybe one of the most devastating hurricanes in the history of that state," Biden said.

Sep 30, 12:35 PM EDT
Biden speaks with South Carolina governor

President Joe Biden spoke with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster Friday ahead of Hurricane Ian's expected landfall.

Biden told McMaster the administration will provide whatever assistance South Carolina needs. Biden issued an emergency declaration for South Carolina Thursday night.

Sep 30, 11:26 AM EDT
Hurricane Ian now 60 miles southeast of Charleston

Hurricane Ian is now 60 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, with sustained winds of 85 mph and even higher gusts.

Conditions at landfall, which is expected after 2 p.m., are forecast to be worst in Myrtle Beach. The worst of the storm surge will be from there to the North Carolina border.

More than 4 inches of rain has fallen in South Carolina so far and it is expected to continue.

Sep 30, 10:59 AM EDT
Ian death toll at least 21

The death toll from Ian is at least 21, according to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. That total is expected to grow.

For now, he said 20 of those deaths are unconfirmed because they were spotted during search and rescue operations and crews were told to prioritize those found alive and still trapped. DeSantis said there was one confirmed death in Polk County, 12 unconfirmed deaths in Charlotte County and eight unconfirmed fatalities in Collier County.

ABC News has confirmed 11 deaths with local officials, though it is unclear whether some overlap with the state's count of 21.

City of Sanibel officials said Thursday evening they have confirmed at least two fatalities.

Other fatalities confirmed by local officials include six in Charlotte County, two in Sarasota County and one in Volusia County.

Sep 30, 10:20 AM EDT
Several Florida airports set to reopen Friday

Tampa International Airport, St. Pete-Clearwater International, Orlando International Airport and Jacksonville International Airport are all set to reopen Friday.

Tampa's first flight is scheduled to arrive at 10:35 a.m. and Orlando will resume passenger flights after noon. The reopening will be gradual. Orlando already has 445 cancelled flights today. Tampa has 152 canceled as of 9:45 a.m.

Jacksonville reopened its Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at 7 a.m. and the airport will be on a reduced operating schedule Friday.

The Federal Aviation Agency closed the Fort Myers airspace to provide a safe environment for search and rescue. It will remain closed Friday.

The Fort Myers Airport will be closed for days, with the FAA saying it won't reopen until at least Oct. 7. United Airlines has canceled all flights out of the airport at least through Monday.

The airports with the most cancellations Friday are Orlando, Tampa and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Sep 30, 9:27 AM EDT
1.9 million customers still without power in Florida, governor says

There are 1.9 million customers are still without power in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Friday.

The hardest hit area is Hardee County, in central Florida, where 99% of customers are without power. Electricity has been restored to 15% of Lee and Charlotte counties, where Ian had knocked out power entirely. Eighty percent of DeSoto County is also without power.

DeSantis said over 42,000 linemen and associated personnel are on the ground, working to restore power.

Lee County is also entirely without water after the storm caused a water main break, DeSantis said.

Sep 30, 8:20 AM EDT
Coast of the Carolinas seeing tropical storm force winds

Tropical storm force winds are lashing much of the coast of the Carolinas before Hurricane Ian is expected to make landfall. Life-threatening storm surge and hurricane conditions are expected by Friday afternoon.

Still over water, Hurricane Ian has reached maximum sustained winds of 85 mph.

Power outages have already begun, with 11,750 South Carolina customers and 8,095 North Carolina customers without electricity.

-ABC News' Max Golembo and Jianna Cousin

Sep 30, 7:46 AM EDT
As flooding begins Charleston police urge 'only essential travel'

Hours before Hurricane Ian is expected to make landfall in South Carolina, Charleston police are urging "only essential travel" and announcing road closures.

"We are experiencing flooding in many of our usual locations and implementing road closure procedures. We expect additional closures throughout the day," police said in a tweet.

Sep 30, 6:48 AM EDT
Flash flood warning issued for Charleston, South Carolina

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning for the Charleston metro area until noon on Friday.

The NWS says that heavy rain and tide will continue to increase and cause life-threatening conditions and flash flooding.

-ABC News' Max Golembo

Sep 30, 6:12 AM EDT
Florida governor set to hold early morning press conference on Hurricane Ian

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will hold his next press conference at 8:45 a.m. ET, according to a media advisory provided by his office.

DeSantis will be joined by FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell.

-ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway

Sep 30, 4:04 AM EDT
Ian death toll at least 11

City of Sanibel officials said Thursday evening they have confirmed at least two fatalities. This brings the overall death toll from Ian to at least 11 that have been confirmed so far.

Other fatalities confirmed by local officials include six in Charlotte, two in Sarasota and one in Volusia.

-ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway

Sep 29, 8:56 PM EDT
DeSantis: More than 700 rescues since Ian's landfall

There have been more than 700 confirmed rescues in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian slamming Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.

The Sanibel Causeway, which suffered significant damage in the storm, will most likely need to be rebuilt entirely, he said.

There were more than 2.3 million customers without power in the state just before 9 p.m. ET Thursday.

-ABC News' Darren Reynolds

Sep 29, 8:04 PM EDT
Tracking Hurricane Ian: Where could the storm hit next?

Another coastline known for its sensitivity to storm surge will feel Ian's wrath as the storm system looks to make another landfall.

While Ian made a slow crawl through central and northern Florida on Thursday as a tropical storm, its sights will soon be set on the coast of South Carolina -- specifically Charleston, which historically does not do well with storm surge.

Ian regained strength Thursday evening as a Category 1 storm with winds of 75 mph as it makes its way north.

See the latest maps, projections and possible paths as Ian targets the Carolinas.

-ABC News' Julia Jacobo and Meredith Deliso

Sep 29, 7:51 PM EDT
Thousands evacuated from nursing homes, hospitals

As of Thursday afternoon, 45 nursing homes were evacuated across Florida -- impacting about 3,500 residents -- as were 115 assisted-living facilities, according to the Florida Health Care Association.

Read more of our coverage here.

-ABC News' Mary Kekatos

Sep 29, 7:21 PM EDT
FAA closes Fort Myers airspace

The FAA has issued a temporary flight restriction order over Fort Myers, Florida, "to provide a safe environment for Hurricane Ian search."

The airspace will remain closed through Friday.

- ABC News' Sam Sweeney

Sep 29, 6:29 PM EDT
Punta Gorda issues boil water notice

Punta Gorda, Florida, issued a boil water notice Thursday in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s destructive path across Charlotte County, where at least six storm-related deaths were reported.

Sep 29, 5:37 PM EDT
Ian is once again a Category 1 hurricane

Hurricane Ian is a Category 1 storm again as of early Thursday evening, with winds now at 75 mph.

Ian will keep strengthening and head north before taking a slight northwest turn into South Carolina. The National Hurricane Center track takes it almost directly into Charleston Friday during the early afternoon.

This would be the third mainland landfall of Ian -- first in Cuba, then in Florida, which technically had two landfalls on Wednesday, the first on Sanibel Island at Cayo Costa and the second at Punta Gorda.

-ABC News' Melissa Griffin and Daniel Amarante

Sep 29, 5:11 PM EDT
At least 9 dead in hurricane

At least nine people have now been reported dead in Florida due to Hurricane Ian.

Charlotte County Commissioner Chris Constance confirmed there are six fatalities in that county. Constance said this is the worst storm damage he has ever seen.

Two deaths have also been confirmed in Sarasota County.

One death was recorded in Volusia County when a 72-year-old man trying to drain his pool was washed away by floodwaters.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Sep 29, 4:41 PM EDT
Hundreds rescued from flooding across Florida

More than 500 people have been rescued in Charlotte and Lee counties since rescue operations began Thursday morning, Florida's Division of Emergency Management said. Search and rescue operations are still ongoing in those two counties.

There have been about 350 people rescued so far in Orlando, officials said. Among those were 106 people rescued from an Avante Group nursing home.

The city received 14 inches of rain from the storm, according to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, overflowing lakes and flooding neighborhoods in the inland city.

The U.S. Coast Guard had rescued more than 30 people over the last 24 hours, according to Adm. Linda Fagan.

"We live in these same communities that we're now responding to and supporting," Fagan told ABC News. "The Coast Guard workforce is really at its best in times like these, as we respond as an immediate, first-response agency."

FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams are also assisting in search and rescue efforts, checking homes and gathering information on buildings hit by Hurricane Ian, Jeremy Edwards, FEMA press secretary, told ABC News.

Search and rescue teams from Ohio, Indiana and Texas are searching and surveying the Tampa Bay area, while two teams from Virginia are in Punta Gorda, according to Edwards.

-ABC News' Victoria Arancio

Sep 29, 4:05 PM EDT
Lee Health evacuating 3 of 4 hospitals due to lack of running water

Lee Health, the Florida-based health care system, has evacuated patients out of three of its four hospitals because they don't have running water due to Hurricane Ian, Dr. Larry Antonucci, president and CEO, said in a video statement Thursday.

“At the present time, our structures and facilities are in good shape. They’ve weathered the storm well, but our infrastructure is challenged in the way of our water supply and power,” Antonucci said.

Lee Health is working with the Agency for Health Care Administration in Florida and local emergency management to arrange for the evacuations of patients to other hospitals outside of Lee County, which includes Fort Myers.

-ABC News' Alexandra Faul

Sep 29, 3:20 PM EDT
Disney World to begin phased reopening Friday

Disney World, which was shut down Wednesday and Thursday, will begin a phased reopening on Friday, according to the resort.

The theme parks and Disney Springs will begin reopening "as we assess the impact of Hurricane Ian on our property," Disney tweeted.

The exact opening hours will be released later Thursday, Disney said.

More than a foot of rain has already fallen in the Orlando area with some light rain still ongoing. Hundreds of people have been rescued from flooding in the city.

Sep 29, 2:45 PM EDT
Ian to be at least Category 1 hurricane when it hits South Carolina

Ian is expected to be at least a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds when it makes its third landfall near or north of Charleston, South Carolina, Friday, in the late morning or early afternoon.

Ian, currently a high-end tropical storm with winds up to 70 mph, is moving off the east-central coast of Florida, currently 40 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral. The storm is forecast to regain hurricane strength in the next 12 hours.

Hurricane warnings remain in effect for the entire coast of South Carolina. Charleston already had almost 2 foot storm surge Thursday as Ian gets closer, and storm surge is forecast up to 7 feet.

The storm surge combined with up to 10 to 12 inches of rain is extremely concerning as the area floods easily.

-ABC News' Melissa Griffin

Sep 29, 2:29 PM EDT
More than 500 people rescued so far

More than 500 people have been rescued in Charlotte and Lee counties since rescue operations began Thursday morning, Florida's Division of Emergency Management said. Search and rescue operations are still ongoing.

The U.S. Coast Guard had rescued 28 people and assisted four others as of just before 11 a.m., Federal Emergency Management Agency External Affairs Specialist Crystal Paulk-Buchanan told ABC News.

Paulk-Buchanan said two pets have also been rescued by the Coast Guard.

As of 5 a.m., FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams are assisting in search and rescue efforts, checking homes and gathering information on homes and other structures hit by Hurricane Ian, Jeremy Edwards, FEMA press secretary, told ABC News.

Search and rescue teams from Ohio, Indiana and Texas are searching and surveying the Tampa Bay area, while two teams from Virginia are in Punta Gorda, according to Edwards.

-ABC News' Victoria Arancio

Sep 29, 2:05 PM EDT
US Coast Guard has rescued 28 people so far

The U.S. Coast Guard had rescued 28 people and assisted four others as of just before 11 a.m., Federal Emergency Management Agency External Affairs Specialist Crystal Paulk-Buchanan told ABC News.

Paulk-Buchanan said two pets have also been rescued by the Coast Guard.

As of 5 a.m., FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams are assisting in search and rescue efforts, checking homes and gathering information on homes and other structures hit by Hurricane Ian, according to Jeremy Edwards, FEMA press secretary, told ABC News.

Search and rescue teams from Ohio, Indiana and Texas are searching and surveying the Tampa Bay area, while two teams from Virginia are in Punta Gorda, according to Edwards.

-ABC News' Victoria Arancio

Sep 29, 1:24 PM EDT
Biden says Ian may be deadliest storm in Florida history

President Joe Biden said officials are hearing early reports of what may be a substantial loss of life due to Hurricane Ian, he said at a press conference at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters Thursday.

"This could be the deadliest storm in Florida history. The numbers we have are still unclear, but we're hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life," Biden said.

Biden also promised support to state and local officials as officials assess the damage caused by the storm, saying the federal government will cover the entire cost of clearing debris and of rebuilding public buildings like schools and state fire stations. The government will also be providing support to people with destroyed or damaged homes.

Sep 29, 1:06 PM EDT
Biden calls Lee County commissioner to discuss hurricane response

President Joe Biden and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswel spoke with Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass Thursday to discuss response to the hurricane and ways the administration can support the county in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

The administration said it would assist in meeting immediate needs for search and rescue efforts, power restoration, helping to address challenges faced by local hospitals and problems presented by damage to roads and bridges, according to a statement from the White House.

-ABC News' Justin Gomez

Sep 29, 1:05 PM EDT
Storm severely damages Sanibel Causeway, Pine Island bridge

The Sanibel Causeway, which connects Sanibel Island to mainland Florida, and the Matlacha Pass Bridge, which connects Pine Island to the mainland in Cape Coral, are not passable and will require structural rebuilds due to the storm, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.

Officials have received reports of damages to other bridges. A team of 100 engineers is on site to do bridge inspections.

"I anticipate there will likely be other bridges that have suffered damage, but once bridges are inspected and determined to be safe, they will be reopened as soon as possible," DeSantis said.

Sep 29, 12:03 PM EDT
Tampa International Airport to reopen 10 a.m. Friday

Tampa International Airport announced it will resume commercial operations on Friday at 10 a.m. after shutting down due to Hurricane Ian.

Although an inspection of the airfield and facilities determined the airport did not sustain any serious damage during the storm, reopening Friday will give the airport and its partners, including the Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration and airlines, time to take necessary steps to resume business safely, the airport said in a statement.

This includes bringing back aircraft and staff that had been removed ahead of the storm.

The airport had suspended operations at 5 p.m. on Tuesday ahead of Ian's landfall.

-ABC News' Amanda Maile

Sep 29, 11:13 AM EDT
Hurricane warning issued for entire coast of South Carolina

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for the entire coast of South Carolina. A hurricane watch had been in place for the entire state earlier.

Now a tropical storm, Ian is expected to become a hurricane again Thursday night before making landfall near Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday morning or early afternoon.

Ian currently has maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, just 4 mph from returning to hurricane strength.

Sep 29, 10:51 AM EDT
Hillsborough County, including Tampa, lifts evacuation order

After conducting initial safety assessments, Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise has removed the evacuation order in place.

After hosting more than 8,000 evacuees across 47 shelters, the county is preparing to conclude its sheltering operations or transition shelter availability for evacuees who continue to need assistance.

"Residents whose homes have been damaged are encouraged to find a safe place to stay. That place might be with family, friends, or at a nearby hotel," the county said in a statement.

The county also urged residents heading home to drive with caution, not to drive through obstructions or standing water and to stay away from downed power lines.

-ABC News' Alexandra Faul

Sep 29, 10:37 AM EDT
FEMA search and rescue teams out since 4 a.m., administrator says

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's search and rescue teams have been out in the field since 4 a.m. Thursday, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told "Good Morning America." It will prioritize saving lives and helping people impacted by the storm, who may be trapped.

Criswell said FEMA has been hearing reports of people calling 911 through the night and will use information it has gathered in those hours to prioritize rescues in harder-hit areas.

"This has been just a catastrophic storm and it's left significant damage in its path," Criswell said.

Criswell said FEMA will be able to conduct rescues by land, air and sea.

The most significant impacts have been happening in Lee County, where people are without power and water. Criswell also expects impacts across the western coast of Florida.

"Water is dangerous. Even though the storm has passed, the water that is there is still dangerous. There's debris, there's chemicals, there could be downed power lines. People need to be careful, they need to stay vigilant," Criswell said.

Sep 29, 10:00 AM EDT
Central Florida seeing 500-year flood event, damage will take years to repair, DeSantis says

There is potentially major flooding in Orange and Seminole counties and St. Johns River, potentially up to Jacksonville in northeast Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.

"The amount of water that's been rising and will likely continue to rise today, even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500-year flood event. And I know Seminole County has done evacuations, I know they've opened shelters, but we're gonna see a lot of images about the destruction that was done in southwest Florida and obviously we have massive assets there," DeSantis said.

"This storm is having broad impacts across the state and some of the flooding you're going to see in areas hundreds of miles from where this [storm] made landfall are going to set records. And that's going to obviously be the things that will need to be responded to," DeSantis added.

The damage caused by the storm will likely take years to repair, he said.

"You're looking at a storm that's changed the character of a significant part of our state. And this is going to require not just emergency response now, in the days or weeks ahead. I mean, this is going to require years of effort to be able to rebuild and to come back," DeSantis said.

Sep 29, 9:48 AM EDT
Storm severely damages Sanibel Causeway, Pine Island bridge

The Sanibel Causeway, which connects Sanibel Island to mainland Florida, and the Matlacha Pass Bridge, which connects Pine Island to the mainland in Cape Coral, are not passable and will require structural rebuilds due to the storm, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.

Officials have received reports of damages to other bridges. A team of 100 engineers is on site to do bridge inspections.

"I anticipate there will likely be other bridges that have suffered damage, but once bridges are inspected and determined to be safe, they will be reopened as soon as possible," DeSantis said.

Sep 29, 9:37 AM EDT
Biden, DeSantis speak again after Ian's destruction

President Joe Biden spoke with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday morning to discuss support for the state in response to Hurricane Ian and the disaster declaration the president approved overnight, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a tweet.

"The President told the Governor he is sending his FEMA Administrator to Florida tomorrow to check in on response efforts and see where additional support is needed. The President and Governor committed to continued close coordination," she wrote in a tweet.

Biden first spoke to the governor, a leading political opponent of Biden and possible 2024 Republican presidential candidate, on Tuesday after several days of questions about whether the two would connect.

Sep 29, 9:20 AM EDT
'We've never seen a flood event like this,' Florida governor says

Hurricane Ian caused extensive and "historic" impact and damage in across Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday.

"The impacts of this storm are historic and the damage that was done has been historic and this is just off initial assessments. There's going to be a lot more assessing that goes on in the days ahead," DeSantis said.

"But I think 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 and it's going to end up doing extensive damage to a lot of people's homes," he said.

As of 6 a.m., there are 2.02 million customers without power, according to DeSantis.

DeSantis said Charlotte and Lee counties are "basically off the grid at this point." The areas will likely need a rebuilding of their infrastructure.

Sep 29, 8:45 AM EDT
Ian, now a tropical storm, heads for South Carolina, Georgia coast

Ian, now a tropical storm, is near Florida’s east coast and is moving back over water. Ian is expected to re-intensify and could be at near-hurricane strength when it approaches the coast of South Carolina on Friday.

A hurricane watch has been issued for South Carolina and the Georgia coast.

Ian is producing catastrophic flooding over east-central Florida and is expected to produce life-threatening flooding, storm surge and gusty winds across portions of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

There are already more than 14,000 customers without power in Georgia.

Sep 29, 8:24 AM EDT
Water service out in Punta Gorda, boil water notice in effect until further notice

Hurricane Ian caused serious damage to the city of Punta Gorda's water system, leaving it empty, the city said in an alert sent out to residents.

Water services will be restored as repairs are made, but the city warned it may take days to complete the repairs, officials said.

The city is under a boil water notice.

Officials set up a water fill station for residents and additional water availability has been requested through the Emergency Operations Center, the city said.

Sep 29, 8:10 AM EDT
Power restored to 502,100 customers, some will experience prolonged outages

Power has been restored to 502,100 customers, as of 5 a.m. Thursday, Florida Power & Light Company said.

But, the power utility company warned that some customers may experience prolonged outages "because portions of the electric system in Southwest Florida will need to be rebuilt rather than repaired," FPL said in a statement.

The company said is still working to restore power to 1.2 million customers.

FPL said its workforce has increased to more than 20,000 people, including mutual assistance from 30 states, as it works around the clock to restore power.

"Hurricane Ian has forever altered the lives of so many of our fellow Floridians and we recognize the road to recovery will be long and challenging," Eric Silagy, chairman and CEO of FPL, said in a statement.

Sep 29, 7:58 AM EDT
Ian a deadly, 'life-changing' storm, Lee County sheriff says

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told ABC News' Good Morning America that Hurricane Ian was very unpredictable, with officials tracking the storm every minute and they didn't know where it would hit.

"This is a life-changing event for all of us. We tracked that storm up the coast of Florida, it was very unpredictable," Marceno said.

He added, "We didn't know where it would hit. I can tell you it came into Lee County strong and it was slow moving."

Marceno said there were fatalities, but he didn't yet know the exact number.

Marceno said they are already assessing the area, but the whole area is "crushed" and people are trapped. Marceno said they have thousands of 911 calls that they are currently answering.

"We still cannot access many of the people that are in need," Marceno said. "It's a real, real rough road ahead."

Sep 29, 7:21 AM EDT
Biden Approves Florida Disaster Declaration

President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Florida residents in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” the White House said.

Sep 29, 6:42 AM EDT
Conditions in Kissimmee and neighboring counties in Florida worsened overnight

Flooding has hit several parts of the Orlando area, including Seminole, Osceola, Lake counties and other neighboring areas.

ABC News' Orlando affiliate WFTV said that first responders in Kissimmee rescued at least one person from a couple of vehicles that had been partially submerged during a storm surge overnight.

It is unclear how severe the damage is in the area but witnesses reported heavy and sustained wind and rain throughout the overnight hours.

Sep 29, 6:40 AM EDT
Flash flood emergency declared near Orlando

A flash flood emergency was declared in areas north of Orlando as the region was hit by about a foot of rain, the National Weather Service said.

The declaration covered Sanford, Lake Mary and Heathrow, the service said. Nearby Central Orange, Seminole and South Central Volusia were also under flash flood warnings.

“This is a particularly dangerous situation,” the service said. “Seek higher ground now! Life threatening flash flooding of low water crossings, small creeks and streams, urban areas, highways, streets and underpasses.”

Parts of the region have seen more than 16 inches of rain within 24 hours, with more than 9 inches in the last six hours, making the storm a 1,000-year flood event in the Orlando area and to the north.

Sep 29, 5:50 AM EDT
Power outages spread to 2.5 million customers

More than 2.5 million customers were without power in Florida at about 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, the state’s providers said.

Sep 29, 5:09 AM EDT
Ian becomes tropical storm with 65 mph winds

Ian’s winds slowed to 65 mph early on Thursday morning, downgrading the system to a tropical storm, the National Hurricane Center said.

“The Hurricane Warnings along the east and west coasts of the Florida peninsula have been changed to Tropical Storm Warnings,” the center said.

Sep 29, 5:20 AM EDT
Biden and DeSantis update schedules for Thursday

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will be holding his next press conference on the latest developments of Hurricane Ian at 8:45 a.m. ET at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, will visit FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C. to receive an update on Hurricane Ian at 12 p.m. ET.

While Hurricane Ian is expected to become a tropical storm on Thursday, the storm has battered southwest Florida and has left more than 2 million people without power so far.

Sep 29, 2:15 AM EDT
Ian now 75 mph Category 1 hurricane, expected to become tropical storm later this morning

As of the 2 a.m. ET advisory this morning, Ian continues to maintain its hurricane status.

However, it has weakened to a 75 mph Category 1 hurricane and is expected to become a tropical storm later this morning before emerging off of Florida’s east coast.

Ian’s new track will be issued and updated again at 5 a.m. ET.

Sep 29, 2:09 AM EDT
2.3 million customers without power, Florida providers say

Florida's electric providers said more than 2.3 million customers were without power at about 2 a.m. local time.

Florida Power & Light, the state's largest provider, reported more than 1.1 million outages for its 5.7 million customers.

“Hurricane Ian’s catastrophic winds will mean parts of our system will need to be rebuilt -- not restored,” the company said on Twitter late Wednesday. “Be prepared for widespread, extended outages as we are assessing the damage. We are already at work restoring power where we can do so safely.”

Sep 29, 12:38 AM EDT
Portions of Fort Myers under up to 4 feet of water

Portions of Fort Myers are under up to 4 feet of water, the city said late Wednesday night, and residents are being told to stay inside as first responders try and assess the damage from Hurricane Ian.

"We need to ensure that the roads are clear so that our first responders and our assistance crews can go out there and help everyone that needs us," the city wrote on Twitter. "PLEASE, please, please stay inside."

Sep 29, 12:04 AM EDT
Jacksonville airport cancels all flights Thursday

Jacksonville International Airport has canceled all flights for Thursday and the terminal will be closed.

Sep 28, 11:29 PM EDT
Hurricane Ian now Category 1 storm

Ian continues to gradually weaken as it moves across the Florida Peninsula, now a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds down to 90 mph. The storm is moving to the north-northeast at 8 mph, and the center is currently about 70 miles south of Orlando.

While Ian is weakening, it's still bringing widespread dangerous weather impacts across the state.

Sep 28, 10:58 PM EDT
Flash flood emergency issued in west-central Florida

A Flash Flood Emergency has been issued for parts of Sarasota, Manatee, Desoto, Hardee and Highlands counties in west-central Florida, with other areas experiencing life-threatening flash flooding.

Between 12 to 19 inches of rain has already fallen in the area.

-ABC News' Daniel Peck

Sep 28, 10:51 PM EDT
Lee County sheriff: Reports of buildings compromised and vehicles floating

As Hurricane Ian makes its way across Florida, counties are assessing the devastation left by the storm.

In a Wednesday night press conference, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said that Ian hit the county extremely hard.

Marceno said he'd gotten reports of compromised homes and businesses and of vehicles floating into the ocean.

Officials said part of Fort Myers, which is in Lee County, was "decimated" by Hurricane Ian.

Marceno said residents are in need, and the county will respond to emergency calls once it's safe.

-ABC News' William Gretsky

Sep 28, 10:46 PM EDT
Ian continues to gradually weaken, winds at 100 mph

Hurricane Ian continues to gradually weaken as of 10 p.m. ET, with maximum sustained winds now down to 100 mph. The storm is moving to the north-northeast at 8 mph, and its center is currently about 80 miles south of Orlando.

The Florida Peninsula continues to experience dangerous weather impacts, including strong wind gusts, torrential rain and persistent storm surge in some areas.

Areas of relentless heavy rain will continue to bring the threat of dangerous flash flooding in some areas. This threat becomes even more dangerous during overnight hours.

-ABC News' Dan Peck

Sep 28, 10:33 PM EDT
At least 30 rescues in Naples Wednesday

There were at least 30 rescues in Naples, Florida, on Wednesday amid ongoing rescue operations, the Collier County Sheriff's Office said.

"Our East Naples deputies did 30 rescue missions today. We are still collecting numbers from other areas. We are still rescuing people," the office wrote on Facebook.

"Water is everywhere. It will recede. There will be damage," it added. "Tomorrow we will have a better idea of the extent of damage. We will keep you updated."

Sep 28, 10:26 PM EDT
More than 2 million customers without power in Florida

The number of customers without power in Florida has topped 2 million, as Hurricane Ian continues making its way across the state.

Most of the outages are in the southern Gulf side of the state, primarily in Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Sarasota counties.

The outages are moving east as the storm moves across the state.

-ABC News' Darren Reynolds

Sep 28, 9:28 PM EDT
Jacksonville mayor announces closure of 3 major beaches

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced Wednesday evening that the city is closing Atlantic, Neptune and Jacksonville beaches ahead of Hurricane Ian’s impact on the area.

“We will reopen as soon as it’s safe for citizens,” Curry tweeted.

Sep 28, 9:26 PM EDT
Over 1.9 million customers without power in Florida

The number of customers without power in Florida has topped 1.9 million, as Hurricane Ian continues making its way across the state.

Most of the outages are in the southern Gulf side of the state, primarily in Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Sarasota counties.

The outages are moving east as the storm moves across the state.

-ABC News' Darren Reynolds

Sep 28, 9:13 PM EDT
Ian downgraded to Category 2 hurricane

Hurricane Ian has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm as of a 9 p.m. ET update, with winds now at 105 mph.

-ABC News' Riley Winch

Sep 28, 8:30 PM EDT
Extreme wind warning issued for central Florida counties

Hurricane Ian remains a Category 3 storm as of an 8 p.m. ET update, with winds dropping to 115 mph.

The National Weather Service issued a new Extreme Wind Warning for Highlands, Hardee, Charlotte, Polk and DeSoto Counties in central Florida until 9:30 p.m. ET.

-ABC News' Riley Winch

Sep 28, 7:31 PM EDT
'We hear your calls': Sheriff

Lee County has received more than double the number of 911 calls it typically receives amid Hurricane Ian, according to Sheriff Carmine Marceno, as first responders have suspended their emergency response during the major storm.

"We hear your calls and are aware that Hurricane Ian was a powerful and devastating weather event," Marceno said in a social media post Wednesday evening. "We want to get to you. We want to save you. As soon as safely possible, our assets are ready to deploy to come to your aide."

Ben Abes, Lee County's public safety director, said current conditions, including flooding, make it "impossible" for first responders to go out. He said the county is tracking 911 calls and prioritizing them once first responders are able to act after the hurricane passes.

"We are aware of a number of calls of people who are stranded due to high water," he said during a press briefing Wednesday evening. "This is a scary situation. We urge you not to panic."

Lee County, which is home to hard-hit Fort Myers, Sanibel and Bonita Beach, issued a countywide curfew Wednesday evening due to the storm that is in effect until further notice.

Sep 28, 7:15 PM EDT
Ian downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane

Hurricane Ian has weakened to a Category 3 storm hours after making landfall near Fort Myers as a major hurricane.

While the strength of the storm has diminished slightly, Ian is still wreaking havoc on the Sunshine State as a devastating storm.

The highest wind gust measured at 132 mph at Port Charlotte, and maximum sustained winds are currently at 125 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 7 p.m. advisory.

Water levels in Fort Myers have been reported at more than 7 feet, the advisory states.

-ABC News' Riley Winch

Sep 28, 7:10 PM EDT
Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach 'decimated' by Ian, local officials say

Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach have been "decimated" by Ian after the major hurricane made landfall there.

About 75% of Lee County is without power, and several people are stranded due to high water, officials from Lee County Emergency Management announced during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

A curfew in Lee County was implemented beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Forecasts predict that it will not be safe to venture outside in the region until 5 a.m. on Thursday, officials said.

The number of injuries or fatalities is not yet clear, officials said, adding that the recovery efforts will take months.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Sep 28, 6:38 PM EDT
Wind gusts in eye wall measure at 104 mph

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration station in Venice Beach, Florida, has measured wind gusts of 104 mph within the northern eye wall of Hurricane Ian, according to the 6 p.m. storm advisory.

The storm is currently battering the Florida peninsula with catastrophic storm surge, winds and flooding, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Maximum sustained winds measured at 130 mph, and the storm system has begun churning even slower at 8 mph north-northeast -- toward the east coast of the state.

-ABC News' Melissa Griffin

Sep 28, 6:33 PM EDT
'Massive mobilization' of utility trucks on the way to Florida, governor says

A caravan of utility trucks is making its way from several states toward the parts of Florida most battered by Hurricane Ian to restore power after the worst of the storm has passed, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

"We have a massive, massive mobilization," DeSantis said, adding that workers are coming from other southern states accustomed to hurricane cleanup, such as Texas and Louisiana.

More nearly 1.5 million customers in Florida were without power Wednesday as Ian made landfall near Fort Myers.

Ian continued to batter a large swath of Florida at 6:15 p.m. ET, with life-threatening storm surge all along the southwest coast — up to 12 feet in some places, DeSantis said.

Downtown Naples was reportedly completely flooded due to record storm surge, and while there were also reports of structural damage in Lee County, DeSantis said.

"This was a top five hurricane to ever hit the Florida peninsula," the governor said.

DeSantis said that devastating inland flooding was inundating much of the regions experiencing hurricane conditions, as well.

DeSantis has declared a major disaster in the state.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Sep 28, 6:13 PM EDT
Fort Myers, Naples issue curfews

The city of Fort Myers in southwest Florida has issued a citywide curfew "to protect and safeguard the health, safety and welfare of residents, visitors and first responders." The curfew started at 6 p.m. Wednesday and will be in effect for the next 48 hours.

Down the coast, the city of Naples also issued a citywide curfew earlier Wednesday afternoon, effective immediately until further notice.

Naples reported record storm surge Wednesday morning, before Ian made landfall.

Sep 28, 4:54 PM EDT
Ian makes 2nd landfall on Florida mainland

Hurricane Ian made a second landfall just south of Punta Gorda with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph.

Ian made initial landfall on a barrier island near Cayo Costa just after 3 p.m.

Sep 28, 4:48 PM EDT
South Carolina, North Carolina issue states of emergency

The governors of South Carolina and North Carolina each issued states of emergency on Wednesday afternoon in preparation for Ian's arrival.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said no evacuations or school closures have been ordered yet.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the decision would help first responders and farmers and protect customers from price gouging.

The storm is expected to cross Florida and enter the Atlantic before making landfall again along the South Carolina coast over the weekend.

Sep 28, 4:13 PM EDT
Over 1 million power outages

Over 1 million Florida customers were without power on Wednesday just after Ian made landfall.

The majority of outages were along the west coast in Sarasota, Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties.

Sep 28, 3:12 PM EDT
Ian makes landfall as Category 4

Hurricane Ian made landfall on Florida's west coast Wednesday afternoon as a powerful Category 4 storm, slamming the coastline with powerful 150 mph winds and dangerous storm surge.

Landfall was at about 3:05 p.m. ET near Cayo Costa, an island off the coast of Fort Myers.

For southwest Florida, Ian “will probably be the big one that they always remember,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

The governor said Ian will likely stay in the state until Thursday, exiting from Daytona Beach.

Sep 28, 2:07 PM EDT
Biden to visit FEMA on Thursday

President Joe Biden will visit FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to receive an update on Hurricane Ian, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“We have deployed significant federal resources to the region to help prepare for the hurricane,” Jean-Pierre said at Wednesday’s press briefing. “We have more than 1,300 federal response workers on the ground in Florida. ... Three-hundred Army Corps personnel are on the ground to support power and fuel assessments. Three-hundred ambulances are supporting local officials, and multiple federal disaster medical assistance teams are deployed to Florida and Georgia.”

Sep 28, 1:33 PM EDT
Counties suspend emergency response calls

Sarasota County, Florida, officials announced emergency crews will no longer respond to calls due to Hurricane Ian.

In Charlotte County, just north of Fort Myers, emergency response calls for fire and EMS service will also be suspended.

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office added, “911 will still be operational and calls will be triaged for response as soon as weather condition permit.”

Sep 28, 1:25 PM EDT
Naples issues curfew

The city of Naples, in southwest Florida, has issued a citywide curfew, effective immediately until further notice.

Naples has reported a wind gust of 112 mph as Hurricane Ian inches closer to shore.

Sep 28, 1:03 PM EDT
Extreme wind warning issued

An extreme wind warning has been issued near Fort Myers as Hurricane Ian nears.

Naples has reported a wind gust of 112 mph.

Fort Myers resident Debbie Levenson and her husband chose not to evacuate for Hurricane Ian and are staying put at home.

“Hurricanes are a concern, but I don't freak out about it. You do what you have to do. You get your supplies, make sure you have flashlights, do your laundry ahead of time in case you lose power,” she told ABC News. “We bought bottled water and wine. We put gas in the car. The store shelves were not empty.”

"We are concerned with local flooding, but we drained the pool and are keeping an eye on the roads,” she continued. “Most of the neighborhood has stayed. Neighbors only left if they had small children or had a medical reason.”

Ken Graham, director of NOAA's National Weather Service, warned people sheltering in place to not venture out once the storm passes over.

“Don’t go out there. It’s so dangerous to be out there. So even if you see the water receding, it’s not the time to go out,” he said.

-ABC News' Morgan Korn and Max Golembo

Sep 28, 12:03 PM EDT
Ian nears record-breaking winds

Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 with 155 mph winds, is nearing record-breaking wind levels.

Only four hurricanes have ever made landfall in the continental U.S. with winds over 155 mph: Labor Day in 1935 with 185 mph winds; Camille in 1969 with 175 mph winds; Andrew in 1992 with 165 mph; and Michael in 2018 with 160 mph.

Sep 28, 11:53 AM EDT
Naples sees record storm surge

Naples, Florida, reached a new record-high storm surge of 4.8 feet Wednesday morning -- and the water continues to rise.

This beats the record of 4.25 feet reached during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Ken Graham, director of NOAA's National Weather Service, warned Wednesday, “This is going to be a storm we talk about for many years to come -- historic event."

Sep 28, 11:13 AM EDT
Ian’s eyewall moving on shore

Hurricane Ian’s eyewall is moving on shore.

The powerful Category 4 storm is set to bring catastrophic storm surge, winds and flooding.

Sanibel Island has reported sustained winds of 58 mph with a wind gust reaching 75 mph.

Sep 28, 10:45 AM EDT
Over 2,000 flights canceled

The airports in Orlando, Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale are leading the world in flight cancellations Wednesday morning.

Over 2,000 flights have been canceled within, into, or out of the United States on Wednesday.

Another 1,600 flights are already cancelled for Thursday.

The Tampa International Airport will remain closed through Thursday.

-ABC News’ Ahmad Hemingway and Sam Sweeney

Sep 28, 10:00 AM EDT
Over 172,000 power outages

Over 172,000 Florida customers are without power on Wednesday morning as Ian nears.

Sep 28, 9:09 AM EDT
18 feet of storm surge possible

Up to 18 feet of dangerous storm surge is forecast along Florida’s Southwest coast, including Englewood, Bonita Beach and Charlotte Harbor.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell warned Tuesday that her biggest concern with Ian was storm surge.

"In 2018, when Hurricane Michael impacted the Florida Panhandle, there were five recorded fatalities as a result of storm surge,” she noted.

Sep 28, 8:32 AM EDT
Gov.: Treat storm like tornado approaching your home

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Wednesday morning that Ian could potentially make landfall as a Category 5 hurricane.

“This is a powerful storm that should be treated like you would treat a tornado approaching your home,” he said. “This one has just strengthened and strengthened, and it is the real deal. So, it is going to do a lot of damage, so people should be prepared for that.”

More than 200 shelters are open in South Florida, he said.

Twenty-six states, including New York and New Jersey, have sent support to Florida, he said.

Sep 28, 7:41 AM EDT
Winds near Category 5 as storm approaches Florida

Hurricane Ian approached Category 5 status at about 6:30 a.m. ET, with its winds topping out at 155 mph.

Only four hurricanes have ever made landfall in the continental U.S. with winds over 155 mph: Labor Day in 1935 with 185 mph winds; Camille in 1969 with 175 mph winds; Andrew in 1992 with 165 mph; and Michael in 2018 with 160 mph.

Severe Category 5 hurricanes have winds above 157 mph.

“Rapidly intensifying Ian forecast to cause catastrophic storm surge, winds, and flooding in the Florida peninsula,” the National Hurricane Center said at 7 a.m. ET.

Sep 28, 7:23 AM EDT
16 feet of storm surge possible

A whopping 16 feet of storm surge is possible around Fort Myers.

Up to 11 feet of storm surge is forecast for Naples while a maximum of 10 feet is expected for the Sarasota area.

"Our biggest concern as we wait for this storm to make landfall is storm surge," FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell warned Tuesday. "In 2018, when Hurricane Michael impacted the Florida Panhandle, there were five recorded fatalities as a result of storm surge."

Sep 28, 7:15 AM EDT
Nearly 2,000 flights canceled

Florida’s airports are leading the world in flight cancellations Wednesday morning.

There are at least 1,903 flight cancellations within, into, or out of the United States for Wednesday.

Sep 28, 5:13 AM EDT
Ian strengthens to Category 4 hurricane

Hurricane Ian strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday morning, as its winds climbed to 140 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm is the first Category 4 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since Hurricane Rita in September 2005.

Sep 28, 3:06 AM EDT
Ian moves closer to Florida’s west coast

Hurricane Ian was moving closer to Florida’s west coast, the National Hurricane Center said in its 2 a.m. ET update on the storm's position.

The eye of the Category 3 storm was about 95 miles southwest of Naples, Florida, and was moving north-northeast at about 10 mph, officials said.

“On the forecast track, the center of Ian is expected to approach the west coast of Florida within the hurricane warning area this morning, and move onshore later today,” the update said.

Officials said the storm was expected to pass over central Florida on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, before emerging over the Atlantic Ocean late Thursday.

The hurricane was “expected to cause life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and flooding in the Florida peninsula,” the update said.

Sep 28, 2:28 AM EDT
Miami-Dade County suspends transit service

Officials in Miami-Dade County suspended transit services at 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday, as Hurricane Ian approached Florida.

Florida’s most populous county halted its Metrobus, Metrorail, Metromover and Special Transportation Services until further notice, officials said in a news release.

Sep 28, 12:24 AM EDT
DeSantis tells Floridians time to evacuate is 'now'

Hurricane Ian is fast approaching Florida, and the time to leave is "now" if you're in an evacuation zone, Gov. Ron DeSantis said late Tuesday during a press conference.

"Your time to evacuate is coming to an end. You need to evacuate now. You're going to start feeling major impacts of this storm relatively soon," the governor said. "Now is the time to do it, and now is the time to act."

As of Tuesday night, about 8,000 people were without power in the southern part of Florida, officials said.

Conditions are expected to continue to deteriorate across central and south Florida, with landfall currently forecast sometime between Wednesday afternoon and early evening.

Elsewhere, a tropical storm warning is now in effect along the coast of Georgia and up to Charleston, S.C.

Sep 27, 10:31 PM EDT
Biden spoke with DeSantis, White House press secretary says

President Joe Biden spoke Tuesday night with Gov. Ron DeSantis ahead of Hurricane Ian's arrival "to discuss the steps the federal government is taking to help Florida prepare," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted.

"The president and the governor committed to continued close coordination," Jean-Pierre wrote.

Sep 27, 10:18 PM EDT
Cuba without power in wake of Hurricane Ian: Reports

Cuba has lost power after Hurricane Ian made landfall on the island Tuesday, according to reports.

There is "0 electricity generation" in the country, according to a National Electric System update.

"This complicated condition is also associated with complex weather conditions that have affected the SEN infrastructure," the update said.

Sep 27, 8:33 PM EDT
Some Florida residents begin evacuating ahead of Ian's landfall

Some Florida residents have begun evacuating their homes as Hurricane Ian approaches.

People are seeking shelter ahead of the storm, which is currently forecast to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane sometime Wednesday afternoon.

Ian remains a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph as of Tuesday might.

It’s moving north-northeast at 10 mph and the center is located about 180 miles south-southwest of Punta Gorda, Florida.

There have been multiple tornado warnings in the area over the past few hours. A large tornado was reported on the ground in southern Broward County, near Davie, at around 7:30 p.m. ET.

Sep 27, 7:34 PM EDT
Satellite images show lightning-packed eye of Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian is barreling toward Florida, and satellite images show the eye of the storm packed with lightning as it strengthens over the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm is currently forecast to make landfall on Florida's western coast on Wednesday between 1 and 6 p.m., somewhere between Port Charlotte and Sarasota.

See the latest maps and read more about Hurricane Ian's projections and possible paths here.

Sep 27, 6:31 PM EDT
DeSantis on Hurricane Ian: 'This thing is the real deal, it is a major, major storm'

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has urged Floridians to take Hurricane Ian seriously as the powerful storm heads to the state.

"You don't get a mulligan when your personal safety is at risk,” he said during a press conference on Tuesday.

About 2.5 million people in the state are under evacuation orders.

"This thing is the real deal. It is a major, major storm,” DeSantis said.

-ABC News’ Darren Reynolds

Sep 27, 5:43 PM EDT
5,000 Florida Guardsmen activated and prepping for Hurricane Ian

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has activated 5,000 Florida National Guardsmen to armories across the state in preparation for Hurricane Ian, which is forecast to hit the state on Wednesday.

Roughly 2,000 National Guard members from neighboring states such as Tennessee are also being activated to assist, the Florida National Guard said in a statement Tuesday.

"The Florida National Guard is well-equipped, with assets including high-wheeled vehicles, helicopters, boats, generators and more," the statement said.

The U.S. Navy has authorized non-essential personnel in various Florida counties to evacuate.

-ABC News’ Matt Seyler

Sep 27, 5:12 PM EDT
Landfall forecast for Wednesday afternoon or evening

Hurricane Ian, barreling north toward Florida with 120 mph winds, is now located about 230 miles away from Sarasota.

Ian is expected to make landfall in Florida on Wednesday afternoon or early evening.

Ian's outer bands are already hitting South Florida, bringing a threat of heavy downpours, strong wind gusts, frequent lightning and even tornadoes. A tornado watch is in effect for South Florida until 5 a.m. Wednesday.

-ABC News’ Dan Peck

Sep 27, 4:51 PM EDT
Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando to close

Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando will close Wednesday and Thursday due to the storm.

Sep 27, 3:56 PM EDT
Coastal Georgia, South Carolina under tropical storm watches

As Ian moves north over Florida, tropical storm force winds will reach coastal Georgia and South Carolina.

Tropical storm watches have been issued for Savannah and near Charleston.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has issued a state of emergency.

Sep 27, 2:57 PM EDT
Ian, a Category 3, expected to strengthen more

Ian, now a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds, has strengthened on Tuesday and is forecast to strengthen even more into the night.

People walk through a flooded street in Batabano, Cuba, Sept. 27, 2022, during the...Read More

The latest track shows Ian making landfall on Wednesday, striking the west coast of Florida between Tampa and Fort Myers, bringing flooding and damaging winds.

Hurricane warnings are in effect from Tampa to Fort Myers and storm surge warnings are in effect for a large portion of Florida’s west coast.

There is also a risk for tornadoes in Florida Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sep 27, 2:34 PM EDT
FEMA: 'Do not underestimate' Ian

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell warned Tuesday, "Floridians are going to experience the impacts from the storm for a very long time."

"Our biggest concern as we wait for this storm to make landfall is storm surge," Criswell said. "In 2018, when Hurricane Michael impacted the Florida Panhandle, there were five recorded fatalities as a result of storm surge. So therefore, if people are told to evacuate by their local officials, please listen to them. The decision you choose to make may mean the difference between life and death."

President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged residents to "evacuate when ordered."

Biden said he spoke to the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater Tuesday morning and told them to "contact me directly" for "whatever they need."

Criswell said a search and rescue coordination group has been activated, including members from FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, the Coast Guard, the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior.

The Red Cross has established 29 shelters and is prepared to open 60 more shelters if needed, she said.

Criswell stressed, "To those who may be watching at home, get ready and do not underestimate the potential that the storm can bring."

Sep 27, 2:28 PM EDT
Orlando’s airport closing Wednesday

The Orlando International Airport said operations will stop at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is closing at 1 p.m. Tuesday while Tampa International Airport is suspending flights at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is closing at 8 p.m. Tuesday while the Melbourne Orlando International Airport will stop flights at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Sep 27, 12:25 PM EDT

 

Orlando’s airport closing Wednesday

 

The Orlando International Airport said operations will stop at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is closing at 1 p.m. Tuesday while Tampa International Airport is suspending flights at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Sep 27, 12:03 PM EDT
Coastal Georgia, South Carolina under tropical storm watches

As Ian moves north over Florida, tropical storm force winds will reach coastal Georgia and South Carolina.

Tropical storm watches have been issued for Savannah and near Charleston.

Sep 27, 11:13 AM EDT
Landfall in Florida forecast for Wednesday afternoon

Hurricane Ian’s track is moving south, with landfall forecast for late afternoon Wednesday between Tampa and Fort Myers as a Category 3 storm.

The storm surge forecast for Tampa Bay has dropped from 10 feet to 8 feet. But now the predicted storm surge for Fort Myers has increased and could be as high as 12 feet.

 

Sep 27, 9:41 AM EDT
Tornado watches issued in South Florida

Tornado watches have been issued in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Naples and Key West as Hurricane Ian approaches.

The watches are in effect until 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Sep 27, 8:25 AM EDT
Latest forecast shows landfall in Tampa Bay area

The forecast has shifted significantly east, now with landfall expected in the Tampa Bay area Wednesday night into early Thursday morning as a Category 3 hurricane.

This would mark Tampa Bay’s first direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921.

Slow-moving Ian is expected to drop more than 15 inches of rain from Tampa to Orlando.

Major flooding is possible in Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Sep 27, 5:00 AM EDT
Hurricane Ian makes landfall after strengthening to major storm

Hurricane Ian made landfall over western Cuba early on Tuesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.

“Satellite and radar data indicate that the center of Ian has made landfall just southwest of the town of La Coloma in the Pinar Del Rio Province of Cuba at 4:30 a.m.,” the center said.

Ian’s winds at landfall were estimated at a maximum of 125 mph, making the storm a Category 3 hurricane.

Sep 26, 11:35 PM EDT
Ian strengthens as winds grow to 105 mph

Hurricane Ian continued to intensify Monday night, with maximum sustained winds now at 105 mph.

The hurricane is about 105 miles east-southeast of the western tip of Cuba, which is expected to see significant wind and storm surge impacts soon.

The storm is expected to become a major hurricane overnight or Tuesday morning.

Sep 26, 9:47 PM EDT
Tampa International Airport to close as Ian approaches

Tampa International Airport will stop all operations starting 5 p.m. Tuesday to secure its airfield and terminals ahead of Hurricane Ian's expected landfall later this week.

Sep 26, 7:14 PM EDT
HHS secretary declares public health emergency for Florida

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency for the state of Florida.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra made the declaration Monday to address the possible health impacts for Florida residents once Hurricane Ian nears the state.

"We will do all we can to assist Florida officials with responding to the health impacts of Hurricane Ian," Becerra said in a statement. "We are working closely with state, local, and tribal health authorities, as well as our federal partners, and stand ready to provide additional public health and medical support."

HHS has pre-positioned two 15-person health and medical task force teams from its National Disaster Medical System, as well as a 13-person incident management team and two pharmacists to assist with the response in Florida.

"These teams are highly trained and ready to respond if, when, and where they may be needed following the storm," HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Saturday. That declaration was approved by President Joe Biden on Sunday.

Sep 26, 6:59 PM EDT
Hurricane warning issued for Tampa Bay area

The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for the Tampa Bay area just after its 5 p.m. advisory for Hurricane Ian.

The hurricane, currently a Category 2, is forecast to strengthen before it slows down as it approaches land. It is then expected to hover off the coast of Tampa from Wednesday into Thursday before making landfall.

A hurricane watch has also been issued for Big Bend, Florida, near the panhandle, and tropical storm warnings are in effect for much of southwest Florida.

Tropical storm watches are in effect for Orlando toward the northeast portion of the state, from Fort Pierce to Jacksonville.

-ABC News' Melissa Griffin

Sep 26, 6:21 PM EDT
Florida utility company to use remote grid technology to restore power during the storm

The emergency response from Florida Power & Light is “well underway” as Hurricane Ian approaches, the utility company announced Monday.

FP&L has mobilized 13,000 workers, as well as supplies, to ensure the response is conducted as safely and quickly as possible after the storm hits, according to a press release.

As the hurricane begins to bear down on the region, FP&L will use remote grid technology to restore power remotely during the storm, as long as it is safe to do so, the company said. After the storm passes and winds drop below 35 mph, FP&L will continue restoration and conduct damage assessments with field crews.

The utility company also urged customers to make preparations and take safety precautions.

"As this storm approaches Florida, we know our customers are counting on us and we are determined to meet this challenge," said Eric Silagy, chairman and CEO of FP&L in a statement. "We are mobilizing and pre-positioning our restoration workforce, so these brave men and women can quickly start working as soon as it is safe to do so."

-ABC News' Matt Foster

Sep 26, 3:58 PM EDT
Florida State University cancels classes

Florida State University has canceled classes Tuesday through Friday as Hurricane Ian approaches.

"The cancellation of classes on Tuesday is to allow students to travel safely out of the area if they so choose," the university said. "Students who choose to stay in Tallahassee will be advised via the FSU Alert system to follow a 'shelter in place' protocol during the storm."

Sep 26, 3:38 PM EDT
St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to close

The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport will close at 1 p.m. Tuesday due to the mandatory evacuation orders in Pinellas County. The airport will stay closed until the evacuation order is lifted.

Sep 26, 2:55 PM EDT
1st mandatory evacuation orders issued

Mandatory evacuation orders are in place for coastal parts of Hillsborough County, Florida. Over 300,000 people are expected to evacuate, officials announced Monday, with emergency shelters opening at 2 p.m. Monday.

Hillsborough County could face up to 15 feet of storm surge and 30 straight hours of tropical storm force winds, Florida Emergency Management Director Tim Dudley said.

County Administrator Bonnie Wise added, “We did not make this decision easily, but the storm poses a serious threat, and we must do everything we can protect our residents.”

Some residents of Sarasota County and Manatee County are also under mandatory evacuation orders.

-ABC News’ Alex Faul

Sep 26, 2:01 PM EDT
7,000 National Guardsmen deployed to help

Five-thousand members of the Florida National Guard have been activated to help during Hurricane Ian. Another 2,000 guardsmen from Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina are also coming to help, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

Nearly 300 ambulances and support vehicles are being deployed to areas bracing for Ian’s landfall, DeSantis said.

-ABC News’ Alex Faul

Sep 26, 12:43 PM EDT
Tampa may shut down airport

In Tampa, where residents are bracing for 10 feet of dangerous storm surge, the Tampa International Airport may shut down parts of its airfield and facilities over the next day or two, airport officials announced.

The airport is in an evacuation zone, but because it’s critical infrastructure, it’s “exempt from the storm evacuation order and will stay open until a closure is necessary,” airport officials said in a statement.

It’s been 101 years since Tampa last had a direct hit from a major hurricane.

Sep 26, 11:36 AM EDT
Sarasota, Tampa-area schools close

Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa will be closed Monday through Thursday due to the storm. Instead, some schools will operate as storm shelters, the district said.

In Sarasota County, schools will be closed on Tuesday.

Sep 26, 11:34 AM EDT
First mandatory evacuation orders issued

Mandatory evacuation orders are in place for coastal parts of Hillsborough County, Florida. Over 300,000 people are expected to evacuate, officials announced Monday, with emergency shelters opening at 2 p.m. Monday.

Hillsborough County could face up to 15 feet of storm surge and 30 straight hours of tropical storm force winds, Florida Emergency Management Director Tim Dudley said.

County Administrator Bonnie Wise added, “We did not make this decision easily, but the storm poses a serious threat, and we must do everything we can protect our residents.”

Sep 26, 10:43 AM EDT
NASA rolling Artemis rocket back off launch pad

NASA said it will roll the Artemis I rocket off the launch pad and back to the vehicle assembly building on Monday night due to the storm.

“Managers met Monday morning and made the decision based on the latest weather predictions associated with Hurricane Ian, after additional data gathered overnight did not show improving expected conditions for the Kennedy Space Center area,” NASA said in a statement. “The decision allows time for employees to address the needs of their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system.”

Sep 26, 10:08 AM EDT
Floodwater safety tips to remember

As Ian approaches, here are a few commonsense strategies to help avoid unnecessary risk from floodwaters:

--Before flooding, look up your neighborhood's flood zone and determine if your home or business is prone to flooding. Come up with an evacuation plan and make sure your car has a full tank of gas. Stock up on non-perishable foods.

--After flooding, ensure your drinking water is sanitized and wash your hands thoroughly after contact with floodwaters. Disinfect objects that have come into contact with floodwater before offering them to children or toddlers.

--Try to avoid exposure with floodwaters for long periods of time to prevent physical injury. Wear waterproof boots if you have them. Do not attempt to drive over flooded streets as it could damage the car and strand passengers.

Click here for more.

Sep 26, 10:01 AM EDT
White House closely monitoring Ian

The White House is “closely monitoring” the hurricane, a White House official told ABC News.

President Joe Biden approved Florida’s emergency assistance request this weekend “as soon as he received it,” the official said.

“He also directed his team to surge Federal assistance to the region well before landfall,” the official said. “FEMA has already deployed staff there and pre-positioned food, water, and generators.”

Biden was scheduled to travel to Florida on Monday but that trip has been postponed due to the storm.

-ABC News’ Karen Travers

Sep 26, 8:23 AM EDT
Hurricane watch issued for Tampa, Fort Myers, Naples

Ian is expected to become major Category 3 hurricane Monday night with winds of 115 mph.

As Ian passes Cuba, it’s expected to rapidly intensify, becoming a Category 4 hurricane as it moves through the Gulf. Hurricane warnings are in effect for Cuba and the Cayman Islands.

Models are split when it comes to Ian’s landfall in Florida; impacts could be as far north as Panama City and as far south as Fort Myers.

Some models forecast landfall by Wednesday afternoon between Tampa and Fort Myers, while other models predict landfall at the end of the week near Panama City or Apalachicola.

Hurricane watches have been issued in Tampa, Fort Myers and Naples.

-ABC News’ Max Golembo

Sep 26, 5:20 AM EDT
Storm becomes Hurricane Ian

The National Hurricane Center declared Ian a hurricane on Monday, as the storm gained strength on its way toward Florida.

"A Hurricane Watch has been issued along the west coast of Florida from north of Englewood to the Anclote River, including Tampa Bay,” the center said on Monday.

- ABC News’ Max Golembo

Sep 25, 10:19 PM EDT
NASA to reconvene on whether to take Artemis rocket off launchpad

NASA hasn’t decided whether to leave its Artemis I rocket on the launchpad as it monitors Tropical Storm Ian's path toward Florida, the agency said Sunday.

The federal space agency’s mission managers will continue discussions on Monday about the next steps as its rocket was delayed again.

On Saturday, NASA scrapped its third planned launch attempt of Artemis I because of weather concerns. Artemis I was scheduled to launch on Sept. 27.

Engineers will decide if the rocket needs to roll back off the launch pad. If they do not roll it back, the next possible launch date is Sunday, Oct. 2.

Tropical Storm Ian is forecast to strengthen into a major hurricane as it nears Florida.

NASA had to scrub the first launch attempt on Aug. 29 because of a faulty temperature sensor and the second attempt on Sept. 3 due to a liquid hydrogen leak.

If the Oct. 2 launch doesn’t happen, the rocket will be taken back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center until the team decides on the next date.

-ABC News' Gina Sunseri, Mary Kekatos and Nadine El-Bawab

Sep 25, 10:27 PM EDT
Ian strengthens once again, forecast to become hurricane on Monday

Tropical Storm Ian has strengthened with maximum sustained winds at 60 mph and is expected to get stronger throughout the night as atmospheric conditions become more favorable for the storm.

Ian is forecast to become a hurricane on Monday, becoming even more intense likely into Tuesday.

Ian is moving to the northwest to the Northwest at 12 mph, with the center located 160 miles away from Grand Cayman.

Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are expected to experience heavy rain, a heavy surge and possible flash flooding over the next 24 hours.

-ABC News' Dan Peck

Sep 25, 5:45 PM EDT
Ian weakens slightly but will regain strength overnight

Tropical Storm Ian has weakened slightly, but it is expected to not only strengthen but rapidly intensify overnight as it travels over warm waters in the Caribbean.

As of 5 p.m. ET, the storm system had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph and was moving west-northwest at 12 mph, with the center located about 220 miles away from Grand Cayman.

Dry air ahead of the storm has delayed the strengthening trend so far. But the rapid intensification is expected to occur Monday into Tuesday as the system continues across the northwestern Caribbean and closes in on western Cuba.

Over the next 24 hours, the outer bands will impact Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, bringing rounds of heavy rain, possible flash flooding and storm surge. Later Monday and into Monday night, Ian will be closing in on western Cuba and will likely bring significant wind and storm surge impacts to the region.

A hurricane warning is in effect for Grand Cayman and portions of western Cuba. A tropical storm watch has been issued for portions of western Cuba, as well as the lower Florida Keys, including Key West.

As of 5 p.m., the forecast track was nudged slightly eastward. Overall, the forecast guidance variability and uncertainty will remain high, and the track for where the storm will be from the middle to the end of the week will continue to shift over the next 24 to 48 hours.

-ABC News' Dan Peck

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Next steps for victims of Hurricane Ian, from insurance claims to FEMA aid

Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Hurricane Ian has passed through Florida, leaving a path of destruction in its wake as it now targets the Carolinas.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called the impacts and damage from the storm "historic" based on initial assessments.

"There's going to be a lot more assessing that goes on in the next couple days ahead, but I think we've never seen a flood event like this," he said during a press briefing Thursday.

As damage assessments are underway, many residents may be unable to return to their homes due to flooding, curfews or damaged infrastructure.

"It's really frightening to go through a hurricane, I've been through a lot," Dennis Smith, planner in residence in Florida State University's Department of Urban and Regional Planning, told ABC News. "It can be pretty devastating to have to sit it out and wait and wonder what happened to your house."

Smith advised those impacted to try to have as much patience as possible, both for their safety and the realities of the recovery process.

"I think that the first word is a little bit of patience and a lot of caution in reentry," he said. "It's gonna be a long process...People have to be really careful because the conditions are dangerous."

As those impacted by the storm begin the long recovery process, they may be able to rely on insurance, or a combination of insurance and federal aid.

First call: Insurance provider

Homeowners should reach out to their insurance provider "right away" to let them know they've been affected, Smith said.

DeSantis advised that people take photos of the damage and floodwater lines.

A potential shock for homeowners is if they don't have flood insurance, since homeowners insurance doesn't cover flood damage, Smith said.

"Banks will require you to have flood insurance if you have a mortgage and you're in a flood zone," he said. "But we know with catastrophic floods like this, flooding can occur outside of flood zones."

There may also be costs that go beyond insurance coverage, such as downed trees, he noted.

'Insurance villages'

In impacted counties, Florida is in the process of setting up "insurance villages" at disaster recovery centers with upwards of 25 carriers, where people can go and file claims, state officials said.

"They will start writing checks initially, that will be living expense money. This will be the dollars just to help people go find a place to live, sustenance dollars," Jimmy Patronis, Florida's chief financial officer, said during a press briefing Thursday. "Then you'll be signed up where adjusters will come and inspect the damage."

Beware of scams

Patronis warned Floridians to beware of scammers at this vulnerable time, such as people trying to sign up construction management contracts.

"They're gonna come in like a bunch of locusts," he said. "If it sounds too good to be true, it is."

He advised people to make their first call to their insurance agent or carrier, and to contact his office with any issues.

"If your carrier doesn't want to work with you, that's when you call my office and we'll take them to task," he said.

Reducing future losses

When working with their insurance carrier, homeowners should discuss next steps they can take to help reduce future losses from natural disasters, such as by putting a tarp on their house, Smith said.

"There might be opportunities or guidance to...prevent future damages," he said. "That's really an important step that people need to do."

Small Business Administration loans

Those who find themselves uninsured or underinsured may be able to get financial assistance.

Small Business Administration loans are the "first line of defense" for homeowners, Smith said.

Those living in a declared disaster area who have had damage to their home or property may be eligible for a low-interest loan. Homeowners or renters in over a dozen counties in Florida are eligible due to Hurricane Ian. Homeowners can apply for up to $200,000 to replace or repair their primary home, while renters and homeowners can borrow up to $40,000 to replace or repair personal property, such as furniture, appliances, cars and clothing, damaged or destroyed.

FEMA disaster assistance

FEMA offers assistance for damage and losses not covered by homeowners, renters or flood insurance, as well as other disaster-related expenses such as temporary lodging.

Federal funding has been made available to people in over a dozen counties due to Hurricane Ian.

"Disaster assistance may include financial help with temporary lodging and home repairs, as well as other disaster-related expenses," FEMA said in a statement.

Those in affected areas can request up to $37,900 for home repairs, such as for the roof, critical utilities, windows and doors, and another $37,900 for lost property, if not covered by insurance, President Joe Biden said during an address from FEMA headquarters on Thursday.

Financial assistance is also available to homeowners and renters to rent temporary housing while their home is unlivable, or reimbursement of hotel expenses if their home is not accessible or there's a utility outage, if not covered by insurance.

Over 8,700 people have already registered with FEMA, DeSantis said Thursday night.

FEMA assistance cannot be used toward losses already covered by insurance, so applicants are first encouraged to file a claim with their insurance company immediately. They should also take photos of their damaged home and belongings.

People can register at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Multiple deaths reported after Hurricane Ian slams into Florida

Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- At least 21 people in Florida may have died due to Hurricane Ian, officials said during a press conference Friday morning.

The Category 4 storm slammed into Florida's southwest coast Wednesday afternoon, causing catastrophic damage, fierce winds and dangerous, record-breaking storm surges.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told reporters one death in Polk County, in the central part of the state, has been directly linked to Ian.

Guthrie said there have also been 12 fatalities recorded Charlotte County and eight fatalities in Collier County, but they have not been confirmed to be as a result of the hurricane.

He added there have been deaths in Lee County, which encompasses hard-hit Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, but officials are still counting.

Separately, local officials have confirmed two deaths in the city of Sanibel, two in Sarasota County and one in Volusia County.

In Volusia County, the Sheriff's Office said Thursday the fatality was a 72-year-old man in Deltona who died after attempting to drain his pool during the storm.

The man, who was not publicly identified, "disappeared" after heading outside, the sheriff's office said. Deputies found him unresponsive in a canal behind the home and he was pronounced dead at a local hospital, the sheriff's office said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will ultimately release figures on the estimated death toll due to the storm.

Emergency response was largely halted Wednesday as the storm slammed Florida with high winds and heavy rain. Search and rescue efforts were underway throughout the state Thursday.

Florida Rep. Kathy Castor, who represents the Tampa Bay area, called the situation a "major catastrophe."

"I'm afraid we're going to be dealing with a larger loss of life than we anticipated," she said on "ABC News Live" Thursday.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott told ABC News' Good Morning America Thursday morning there were "thousands of rescue efforts going on right now."

"We've got great sheriff's departments, police departments, fire departments, state rescue teams. They're working hard. But there's a lot of people that need help right now," he said.

He expressed concern for the state's many low-lying areas.

"The water kills and I'm just -- I'm scared to death of, you know, what's happened here and I hope everybody stays safe," he said.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, whose county is home to hard-hit Fort Myers and the barrier island Sanibel, told Good Morning America Thursday that they had thousands of 911 calls that they were currently answering.

"We still cannot access many of the people that are in need," Marceno said. "It's a real, real rough road ahead."

Marceno said there are fatalities, including drownings, but that he does not know the exact number of people dead.

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Russian billionaire charged with violating US sanctions

Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska was charged Thursday with violating U.S. sanctions, according to an indictment unsealed in the Southern District of New York as part of the United States' efforts to crack down on Russian oligarchs.

Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, was among two dozen Russians sanctioned in 2018 by the U.S. Treasury Department as punishment for what Treasury officials called "the Russian government's ongoing and increasingly malign activities in the world."

The FBI searched Deripaska's homes in New York and Washington, D.C., last year.

Deripaska has also been investigated in the past for money laundering, though no charges were ever brought. He was mentioned in special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which said that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had offered Deripaska internal polling and campaign briefings, but made no direct assertion that Deripaska had interfered in the election.

The new indictment charges Deripaska with violating sanctions by allegedly paying two women, Olga Shriki and Natalia Mikhaylovna Bardakova, to provide him personal services in the United States.

"Despite his cozy ties with the Kremlin and his vast wealth acquired through ties to a corrupt regime, Deripaska did all he could to lead a life in a stable, free, democratic society -- even if that meant lying and evading U.S. sanctions," said Andrew Adams, director of the Justice Department's KleptoCapture task force. "The hypocrisy in seeking comfort and citizenship in the United States, while enjoying the fruits of a ruthless, anti-democratic regime, is striking."

Shriki facilitated the $3 million sale of a California music studio for Deripaska, and both women helped Deripaska's girlfriend, Ekaterina Voronina, travel from Russia to the United States so she could give birth to Deripaska's child, according to the indictment.

Voronina has also been criminally charged with making false statements to agents of the Department of Homeland Security at the time she was attempting to enter the country.

"Additionally, between, in, or about 2018 and in or about 2020, Deripaska routinely had Shriki and Bardakova purchase various products in the United States for Deripaska's personal use and as gifts for others on his behalf," the indictment said.

The indictment also accuses Shriki of destroying evidence during the investigation and accuses Bardakova of making false statements to U.S. government officers.

Shriki was arrested Thursday in New Jersey and was expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan.

Deripaska, Bardakova and Voronina were all believed to be in Russia.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Hurricane Ian statistics show why it will come to be known as 'The Big One'

NASA

(NEW YORK) -- Hurricane Ian developed into the monstrous, devastating storm meteorologists predicted it would be.

Ian barreled into the southwest coast of Florida as a major Category 4 hurricane before slowing to a crawl as it made its way across the peninsula, causing widespread destruction in its wake.

The storm will come to be known as "The Big One" in the Fort Myers area, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters in a news conference Wednesday as the hurricane continued its damage.

"The impacts of this storm are historic and the damage that was done has been historic," DeSantis said Thursday morning in his first address since the damage assessments in the southwest portion of the state began. "I think 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."

When Ian made landfall near Cayo Costa, an island off the coast of Fort Myers, just after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, it brought 150 mph winds -- tying as the fifth-strongest hurricane to make landfall in the U.S., according to the National Hurricane Center.

Ian then made a second landfall 90 minutes later, still as a Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds, just south of Punta Gorda, near Pirate Harbor.

The devastating wind gusts were widespread throughout the state.

Cape Coral saw winds at 140 mph, Port Charlotte at 132 mph, and Redfish Pass at 126 mph. In Tampa, about 100 miles away from the center of the storm as it made landfall, wind gusts topped 75 mph.

Early Thursday, more than 2.3 million customers in the state were without power. In Lee County, nearly all residents were without power, emergency officials announced Thursday.

Storm surge records were set for both Fort Myers at 7 feet, and Naples, at 6 feet and rising, with locals reporting houses and cars floating in the influx of water.

Rainfall in Orlando broke its 24-hour rainfall record with 12.49 inches. By Friday, New Smyrna Beach was swamped with 28.60 inches of rain in just 27 hours.

Other significant totals included Union Park, at 16.69 inches and Lake Mary, at 16.14 inches.

Flash flood emergencies were reported at Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach and the Ponce Inlet, where numerous water rescues were conducted.

In Orlando, more than 250 water rescues were conducted as a result of the inland flooding, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced Thursday. Reports for multiple fatalities in Charlotte and Volusia Counties were announced Thursday as well.

The hurricane was so severe and far-reaching it caused a ripple effect of more than 2,000 flight cancellations on Wednesday. Widespread cancellations continued into Thursday as the storm system pushed along its path of destruction.

After three landfalls -- one in Cuba and two in Florida -- Ian is expected to make a fourth landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on the South Carolina coast between Charleston and Myrtle Beach after 2 p.m. ET on Friday, with winds reaching 85 mph.

After Ian exits into the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville as a tropical storm, it is expected to strengthen and be pushed back onto land along the South Carolina coast.

A hurricane warning was issued for the entire coast on Thursday morning, with storm surge on both the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. A hurricane watch has been issued for southern part of North Carolina.

In some areas, storm surge could be as high as 7 feet, according to the National Hurricane Center. The all-time record for storm surge in South Carolina is 9 feet, based on data from the National Hurricane Center.

The destruction from the monstrous storm is expected to continue into Friday.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Uvalde shooting survivors file first federal lawsuit against school district

Marilyn Nieves/Getty Images

(DEL RIO, Texas) -- Three children who survived the Robb Elementary School shooting and their parents filed the first federal lawsuit since the May 24 massacre in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Del Rio, Texas, names the Uvalde school district, police force and gun distributors.

It also names several public officials including Pete Arredondo, the school district police chief who was fired in August, and Mandy Gutierrez, the former principal of Robb Elementary who has taken on a new role in the school district administration.

The lawsuit includes Oasis Outback, the gun shop where the shooter picked up his weapons days before the attack, and Daniel Defense, the gun manufacturer that sold him the gun online. The complaint alleges that the gun-maker markets to young males like the suspected shooter.

The Uvalde school district declined to comment on the litigation. The city of Uvalde, Arredondo, Gutierrez, Oasis Outback and Daniel Defense did not immediately respond to comment.

Gutierrez has been criticized for not using the school's intercom system during the shooting. In a letter to a Texas House investigative committee, Gutierrez rejected that she had disregarded school safety, arguing she followed protocol by not announcing a lockdown alert over the intercom system, according to the Texas Tribune.

Arredondo has said he took all "reasonable actions" the day of the shooting and has threatened legal action against the school board, calling his termination an "illegal and unconstitutional public lynching" in a statement last month from his attorney.

"It's clear that this unspeakable trauma will be with them for a long time, perhaps for the rest of their lives," says Monique Alarcon, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "This case is about ensuring that they have access to the care and resources they need."

Corina Camacho, Tanisha Rodriguez, Selena Sanchez, and Omar Carabajal and their children filed the complaint. Camacho's son was in the room where the shooter entered and was shot in the leg, the lawsuit says. Both of his teachers and many of his classmates were killed.

Rodriguez's daughter was on the playground when the shooting started and had to shelter, the lawsuit says. Sanchez and Carabajal's son was walking to the nurse's office when he saw the gunman and hid in a nearby classroom, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint seeks damages for negligence and emotional distress caused by the shooting but does not name a specific amount. In August the school district and city of Uvalde were served a notice of a separate lawsuit, seeking $27 billion. That lawsuit has not been filed, but around 25 families have joined that proposed class action, according to Charles Bonner, the lead attorney in that case.

The school district told ABC News earlier Thursday it has hired JPPI Investigations, a private investigative firm, to conduct an independent review of UCISD police actions on May 24.

"At this time, we do not have an expected completion date for the reviews," a district spokesperson said in an emailed statement to ABC News.

Survivors of a July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, filed a similar lawsuit Wednesday against the manufacturer of the gun allegedly used in the shooting, as well as a local gun retailer, the suspect and his father.

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Uvalde families continue camping out at district office as they demand suspensions for officers

Kate Holland/ABC News

(UVALDE, Texas) -- The Uvalde school district superintendent met Thursday with the guardian of a student killed in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, after family members of victims and their supporters camped out for almost two days in front the district's administrative building.

Brett and Nikki Cross, guardians of 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia, arrived at the school district offices at 7 a.m. Tuesday and have not left since.

"We've given them 18 weeks to do something, so now we're not begging anymore—we're demanding," Brett Cross told ABC News earlier in the week. "I'm not leaving until they get this done."

The Crosses, among other families who joined in protest throughout the week, want Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police officers who were present at the shooting to be suspended, pending an investigation, for their actions and alleged inaction on May 24 when 19 children and two adults were killed.

Superintendent Hal Harrell met with Brett Cross on Thursday morning in his office, after almost 48 straight hours of protest on the property.

Harrell offered to meet privately with the Crosses on Tuesday, but they declined, citing that they wanted to meet in a public setting.

The Crosses claim that they have been trying to set up a meeting with Harrell since July.

"It's kind of shameful that it has taken this much," Brett Cross said when he finally sat down with Harrell Thursday morning, streaming live on Twitter. "You're not being transparent."

When asked why UCISD officers who were present at Robb Elementary have not been suspended, Harrell said, "We are doing an investigation, but I need those officers [for campus patrol]."

"My son is dead because of the inactions of your school district, of the city, of all the police involved," Cross responded. "They all failed."

"It did not come to my expectations," Harrell told Cross in the livestream. "There was failure that day, there absolutely was."

Uvalde parents accuse officers of misleading families on the day of the shooting in an apparent attempt at crowd control.

"We had [officers] lying to us. 'Nobody's shooting, everyone's okay, trust us we have kids,'" Angel Garza, stepfather to victim 9-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, said in recent testimony to the Congressional Children's Caucus.

Several fathers, including Cross, said they were physically held back by officers and even handcuffed to prevent them from running into the school to rescue their children.

"I could hear gunshots and the screams from inside, our babies screaming," Javier Cazares, father to 10-year-old victim Jacklyn Cazares and who protested outside with the Crosses, has told ABC News. "Anyone who was there that day could hear."

According to UCISD spokesperson Anne Marie Espinoza, the school district has hired JPPI Investigations, a private investigative firm, to conduct an independent review of UCISD police actions on May 24.

"At this time, we do not have an expected completion date for the reviews," she said in an emailed statement to ABC News.

Former UCISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo was terminated in August, and has threatened legal action against the school board, calling his termination an "illegal and unconstitutional public lynching" in a statement from his attorney.

Arredondo has been the only UCISD officer fired or suspended following the shooting.

The Crosses and several other victims' families, alongside a growing crowd of supporters, said they will continue to camp out at the administration building.

"I'm not leaving until those officers are suspended," Brett Cross told ABC News.

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Charleston is vulnerable to storm surge, and Hurricane Ian is taking aim

Manuel Augusto Moreno/Getty Images

(CHARLESTON, S.C.) -- Another coastline known for its sensitivity to storm surge will feel Ian's wrath as the storm system strengthens back into a hurricane and makes another landfall in a vulnerable region.

While Ian made a slow crawl through central and northern Florida on Thursday as a tropical storm, its sights will soon be set on the coast of South Carolina -- specifically Charleston, which historically does not do well with storm surge.

After exiting into the Atlantic Ocean, the warms waters, combined with the Gulf Stream, could allow Ian to regain strength as it heads toward the South Carolina coast as a Category 1 or even Category 2 storm.

Charleston is extremely susceptible to storm surge due to its geography and proximity to the coast.

Nearly 90% of Charleston homes and businesses are vulnerable to storm surge, a 2020 report conducted by the City of Charleston found.

During a major flooding event, emergency responders would not be able to reach about 86% of properties citywide due to roadway flooding, the report found.

Many areas surrounding Charleston Bay could be flooded with even just over 3 feet of surge.

Meteorologists are forecasting a storm surge in Charleston topping 7 feet, putting those who live near the coast in peril. The all-time record for storm surge in the region is 9 feet after Hurricane Irma struck in 2017.

A hurricane warning has been issued for the entire coast of South Carolina, while parts of Georgia are now under hurricane watch advisories, and parts of North Carolina are under tropical storm warnings.

The system is expected to form back into a hurricane Thursday night and could make landfall in South Carolina Friday morning.

Ian had already threatened other regions particularly vulnerable to storm surge.

South Carolina will be Ian's fourth landfall. The hurricane first made landfall as a Category 3 storm near La Coloma, Cuba, on the southwest side of the island, early Tuesday morning.

The system then traveled up the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall twice in Florida on Wednesday afternoon -- first near Cayo Costa, near Fort Myers Beach, as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds and again 90 minutes later in Punta Gorda, near Pirate Harbor, with winds at 145 mph.

Ian's path of destruction is far from over.

ABC News' Max Golembo contributed to this report.

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Hurricane Ian tracker: Latest projections and possible paths

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on Wednesday as a strong Category 4 hurricane, bringing with it the threat of high winds, dangerous storm surge and even tornadoes.

After traveling north through the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Ian made landfall along the southwestern coast of Florida around 3:05 p.m. ET as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds near 150 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

Landfall was near Cayo Costa, an island off the coast of Fort Myers. The storm was approaching Category 5 strength as it headed toward the coast.

The storm has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, with winds of 70 mph midday Thursday. It could strengthen and become a hurricane again as it moves over water on the Atlantic side of Florida.

Ian is forecast to become at least a Category 1 hurricane as it approaches the South Carolina coast Friday morning. Landfall is expected around noon.

Weather alerts now extend across four states, from Florida to North Carolina. A hurricane warning has been issued for the entire coast of South Carolina and a tropical storm warning has been issued for North Carolina.

Parts of Florida have reported record storm surge and life-threatening storm surge remains a risk as Ian moves north. Charleston, South Carolina, could see storm surge at least 7 feet high.

A large swath of the Florida Peninsula and up along the coast to South Carolina is forecast to get more than half a foot of rain through the upcoming weekend. Up to 10 inches is forecast from Charleston to the North Carolina border.

Up to 6 inches is also possible in parts of North Carolina and southern New Jersey.

Some of the heavy rain will come up to Philadelphia and New York City area by Saturday morning, with 2 to 3 inches of rain possible locally.

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Sanibel Island, Lee County facing impacts from Hurricane Ian

JOSEPH AGCAOILI/AFP via Getty Images

(FORT MYERS, Fla.) -- Areas within Lee County, including Sanibel Island and Fort Myers, are facing major damage in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Sanibel, a barrier island outside Fort Myers that is home to fewer than 7,000 residents, faced the brunt of the storm as it made landfall Wednesday afternoon. The island is connected to the mainland by the Sanibel Causeway. On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed the bridge was damaged and is no longer passable.

The Sanibel Causeway and the Matlacha Pass Bridge, which connects nearby Pine Island to the mainland in Cape Coral, will both likely need structural rebuilds due to the storm, DeSantis said.

A video posted by Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno Thursday afternoon showed continued flooding across Lee County as well as destruction to roads, including bridges that appear partially sunken.

"I anticipate there will likely be other bridges that have suffered damage, but once bridges are inspected and determined to be safe, they will be reopened as soon as possible," DeSantis said.

A group of 100 engineers are onsite in Southwest Florida to do bridge inspections, the governor said. President Joe Biden said Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell spoke with Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass on Thursday to discuss ways the administration can support the county in the aftermath of Ian.

The administration said it would assist with search and rescue efforts, power restoration, helping to address challenges faced by local hospitals and problems presented by damage to roads and bridges, according to a statement from the White House.

Lee County is contending with a massive amount of flooding. Officials believe flooding on the barrier island will recede Thursday but will recede more slowly inland, DeSantis said.

Beaches in the area were also destroyed and images show destruction caused by the forceful movement of boats and floating vehicles.

Seven people were rescued in the area of Fort Myers and Tampa on Wednesday night by the U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer Ayla Hudson told ABC News.

Marceno said Wednesday night it was clear the area had been hit very hard and there were reports of buildings being compromised. A curfew was enacted at 6 p.m. but officials were unable to enforce it.

Storm surge was a major concern with this hurricane due to the movement and conditions in the area. It is likely that some areas in southwest Florida had storm surge higher than 12 feet.

Hurricane Ian initially made landfall in Florida on Wednesday afternoon near Cayo Costa. At that point, it was a Category 4 storm, with winds around 150 mph. That landfall occurred about 20 miles west northwest of Fort Myers and 20 miles west southwest of Punta Gorda, which was struck by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

The extent of the damage is not yet known as towns wait for the storm to fully pass and for floodwaters to recede. A hurricane warning was issued for the entire coast of South Carolina as Ian moves north, with the National Hurricane Center anticipating another landfall, this time near Charleston.

ABC News' Alexandra Faul, Justin Gomez and Victoria Arancio contributed to this report.

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Search underway after vessel carrying dozens of migrants sinks amid Hurricane Ian

USCG Southeast

(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Coast Guard is searching for over a dozen migrants after their vessel sank off the coast of Florida as Hurricane Ian was moving through the region, authorities said.

U.S. Border Patrol agents responded Wednesday to a migrant landing in Stock Island in the Florida Keys, Chief Patrol Agent Walter Slosar said on Twitter.

Four Cuban migrants had swam to shore after their vessel sank "due to inclement weather," Slosar said.

The U.S. Coast Guard began a search and rescue mission for an additional 23 people, Slosar said.

Crews have so far rescued five people, authorities said.

Three were found Wednesday in the water about 2 miles south of Boca Chica, the U.S. Coast Guard Southeast said.

"They were brought to the local hospital for symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration. Air crews are still searching," the Coast Guard said in an update on Twitter.

In total, nine people have been "safely located & rescued," Slosar updated Thursday. Eighteen migrants remain missing.

The rescue efforts are underway amid dangerous weather conditions from Hurricane Ian. The storm made landfall on Florida's west coast Wednesday afternoon as a major Category 4 hurricane, bringing with it powerful winds and life-threatening storm surge.

The hurricane's landfall was at about 3:05 p.m. ET near Cayo Costa, an island off the coast of Fort Myers.

The entire Florida Peninsula is under either a hurricane or tropical storm warning due to Hurricane Ian.

The storm is forecast to bring the threat of heavy rains and catastrophic storm surge as it moves through Florida.

The rescue mission comes a day after seven migrants from Cuba were taken into custody after making landfall at Pompano Beach, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to Slosar.

"Do not risk your life by attempting this journey at sea," he said on Twitter. "Storm surge along with King tide can create treacherous sea conditions even after a storm passes."

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Doctor, Army spouse accused of trying to provide service member medical records to Russia

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Federal prosecutors on Thursday unsealed a new indictment charging a Johns Hopkins doctor and her spouse, a U.S. Army Major stationed at Fort Bragg, with attempting to provide military service members' medical information to the Russian government.

Anna Gabrielian, an anesthesiologist, and Jamie Lee Henry, an Army Major who held a Secret level security clearance, are alleged to have met with a person they believed was associated with the Russian government but who was actually an undercover agent with the FBI -- and told the person they wanted to assist Russia by providing them secret medical information on members of the U.S. military, their family members and other patients of Johns Hopkins.

According to the indictment, both discussed with the undercover agent their desire to maintain "plausible deniability" about their actions and suggested a cover story for their negotiations with the person they believed was an agent for Russia as well as a plan for their children to be able to flee the U.S. quickly if the government became aware of their actions.

Gabrielan is alleged at one point to have accessed medical records for patients at Johns Hopkins that included the spouse of a person employed by the Office of Naval Intelligence and an unnamed veteran of the Air Force, and transferred it to the undercover agent -- believing it would be handed over to Russia.

She allegedly highlighted a medical issue in the records of the military member's spouse that "Russia could exploit." Henry is also alleged to have obtained secret medical records from five members of the military, one retired Army officer and family members of deceased Army veterans that were handed over to the undercover agent.

In a meeting in mid-August, Gabrielan allegedly met with the undercover agent in a hotel in Baltimore and told them she was "motivated by patriotism toward Russia" and that Henry was an "even more important source for Russia" due to her status in the military, and that she could potentially provide info on "how the U.S. military establishes an army hospital in war conditions, and about previous training the U.S. military provided to Ukrainian military personnel."

Henry later joined for another meeting that evening where she allegedly said, "the way I am viewing what is going on in Ukraine now, is that the United States is using Ukrainians as a proxy for their own hatred toward Russia."

"My point of view is until the United States actually declares war against Russia, I'm able to help as much as I want," Henry allegedly told the undercover agent. "At that point, I'll have some ethical issues I'll have to work through."

Henry was previously the subject of a 2015 Buzzfeed profile as the first transgender active-duty U.S. Army Officer.

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