By Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Hurricane Ian carved a path of destruction across Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, cutting off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroying a historic waterfront pier and knocking out power to 2.5 million people as it dumped rain over a huge area on Thursday.
Catastrophic flooding was threatened around the state as one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States crossed the peninsula. Ian’s tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 415 miles (665 km), drenching much of Florida and the southeastern Atlantic coast.
“It crushed us,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He said roads and bridges remained impassable, stranding thousands in the county where Ian made landfall just north of Fort Myers. “We still cannot access many of the people that are in need.”
Authorities confirmed at least one storm death in Florida — a 72-year-old man in Deltona who fell into a canal while using a hose to drain his pool in the heavy rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said. Two people died in Cuba after Ian struck there.
Marceno said that while he lacked any details, he believed the death toll would be “in the hundreds.” Gov. Ron DeSantis later said that toll was not confirmed and was likely an estimate based on 911 calls.
President Joe Biden formally issued a disaster declaration Thursday, and Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the agency is supporting search and rescue efforts. The U.S. Coast Guard also began rescues on southwest Florida’s barrier islands early Thursday, as soon as winds died down, DeSantis said.
“The Coast Guard had people who were in their attics and got saved off their rooftops,” DeSantis said. “We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude … 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 flooding event.”
A chunk of the Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people normally live. How many heeded mandatory evacuation orders before the storm surge washed over the island wasn’t known.
South of Sanibel, towering waves destroyed the historic beachfront pier in Naples, tearing out even the pilings underneath. “Right now, there is no pier,” said Penny Taylor, a commissioner in Collier County, which includes Naples.
Emergency crews sawed through toppled trees to reach flooded homes, but with no electricity and virtually no cell service, it was impossible for many people to call for help when the surge filled their living rooms.
“Portable towers are on the way for cell service. Chances are your loved ones do not have ability to contact you,” said the sheriff’s office in Collier County, which includes Naples. “We can tell you as daylight reveals the aftermath, it’s going to be a hard day.”
In Fort Myers, Valerie Bartley was terrified as her family spent desperate hours holding a dining room table against their patio door as debris slammed into their house.
“We just assumed that it was tearing our house apart,” she said. As the storm raged outside, she said her 4-year-old daughter grabbed her hand and said: “I’m scared too, but it’s going to be OK.”
Ian made landfall Wednesday near Cayo Costa, a barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers, as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph (241 kph) winds, tying it for the fifth-strongest hurricane, when measured by wind speed, ever to strike the U.S.
Ian’s center came ashore more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, sparing them their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921. Water drained from Tampa Bay as it approached, then returned with a surge.
The National Hurricane Center said Ian was expected to regain near-hurricane strength after emerging over Atlantic waters near the Kennedy Space Center, with South Carolina in its sights for a second U.S. landfall.
Meanwhile, a stretch of the state remained under as much as 10 feet of water Thursday morning, with destructive waves “ongoing along the southwest Florida coastline from Englewood to Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbor,” the center said.
In Port Charlotte, a hospital’s emergency room flooded and fierce winds ripped away part of the roof, sending water gushing down into the intensive care unit. The sickest patients — some on ventilators — were crowded into the middle two floors as the staff prepared for storm victims to arrive, said Dr. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital.
The Florida Highway Patrol shut down the Florida Turnpike in the Orlando area due to significant flooding and said the main artery in the middle of the state will remain closed until water subsides.
Calls from people trapped in flooded homes or from worried relatives flooded 911 lines. Pleas were also posted on social media sites, some with video showing debris-covered water sloshing toward the eaves of their homes.
Brittany Hailer, a journalist in Pittsburgh, contacted rescuers about her mother in North Fort Myers, whose home was swamped by 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water.
“We don’t know when the water’s going to go down. We don’t know how they’re going to leave, their cars are totaled,” Hailer said. “Her only way out is on a boat.”
Another boat, carrying Cuban migrants, sank Wednesday in stormy weather east of Key West.
The U.S. Coast Guard initiated a search and rescue mission for 23 people and managed to find three survivors about two miles (three kilometers) south of the Florida Keys, officials said. Four other Cubans swam to Stock Island, just east of Key West, the U.S. Border Patrol said. Air crews continued to search for possibly 20 remaining migrants.
The storm previously killed two people in Cuba, and brought down the country’s electrical grid.
More than 2.5 million Florida homes and businesses were left without electricity, according to the PowerOutage.us site. Most of the homes and businesses in 12 counties were without power.
Sheriff Bull Prummell of Charlotte County, just north of Fort Myers, announced a curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. “for life-saving purposes,” saying violators may face second-degree misdemeanor charges.
“I am enacting this curfew as a means of protecting the people and property of Charlotte County,” Prummell said.
At 8 a.m. Thursday, the storm was about 40 miles (70 km) east of Orlando and 10 miles (15 kilometers) southwest of Cape Canaveral, carrying maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) and moving toward the cape at 8 mph (13 kmh), the center said.
Up to a foot (30 centimeters) of rain forecast for parts of Northeast Florida, coastal Georgia and the Lowcountry of South Carolina. As much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) could fall in southern Virginia as the storm moves inland over the Carolinas, and the center said landslides were possible in the southern Appalachian mountains.
The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia all preemptively declared states of emergency.
Associated Press contributors include Christina Mesquita in Havana, Cuba; Cody Jackson and Adriana Gomez Licon in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Seth Borenstein and Aamer Madhani in Washington; Bobby Caina Calvan in New York; Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, Arizona.
S. Korea in shock, grief as 151 die in Halloween crowd surge
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Concerned relatives raced to hospitals in search of their loved ones Sunday as South Korea mourned the deaths of at least 151 people, mostly in their teens and 20s, who got trapped and crushed after a huge Halloween party crowd surged into a narrow alley in a nightlife district in Seoul.
Tens of thousands of people were believed to have gathered in Itaewon for festivities on Saturday night. Witnesses say the streets were so densely clogged with people and slow-moving vehicles that it was practically impossible for emergency workers and ambulances to reach the alley near Hamilton Hotel, as the situation quickly developed into one of the country’s worst disasters in years.
There were concerns the death toll could grow as 24 people among the 104 being treated for injuries are in critical condition, according to Seoul City’s disaster headquarters.
The city government said more than 2,600 people have called or visited a city office in nearby Hannam-dong as of Saturday afternoon, reporting their relatives as out of contact and asking officials to confirm whether they were among those injured or dead after the crush.
The dead included 19 foreigners, said Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry did not confirm the nationalities of those victims, but it said that they alerted their countries’ embassies in Seoul. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said at least three Chinese nationals were killed.
The bodies of the dead were being kept at 42 hospitals in the capital, Seoul, and nearby Gyeonggi Province, according to Seoul City, which said it will instruct crematories to burn more bodies per day as part of plans to support funeral proceedings.
Around 100 businesses in the Hamilton Hotel area have agreed to shut down their shops through Monday to reduce the number of partygoers who would come to the streets through Halloween Day.
An estimated 100,000 people had gathered in Itaewon for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween festivities since the pandemic began and strict rules on gatherings were enforced. The South Korean government eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent months and this was the first big chance to get out and party for many young people.
While Halloween isn’t a traditional holiday in South Korea, where children rarely go trick-or-treating, it’s still a major attraction for young adults, and costume parties at bars and clubs have become hugely popular in recent years.
Itaewon, near where the former headquarters of U.S. military forces in South Korea operated before moving out of the capital in 2018, is an expat-friendly district known for its trendy bars, clubs and restaurants and it’s the city’s marquee Halloween destination.
Officials initially said 150 people were injured as of Sunday morning before later lowering their tally. National Fire Agency officials didn’t immediately explain why the tally was reduced but said emergency workers would have had a more accurate idea of the casualties as rescue operations proceeded and that some of the injured would have been converted to deaths. It was also possible that some of those who were lightly injured had returned home overnight and were no longer counted.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol declared a national mourning period on Sunday and ordered flags at government buildings and public offices to fly at half-staff. During a televised speech, Yoon said supporting the families of the victims, including their funeral preparations, and the treatment of the injured would be a top priority for his government.
He also called for officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and review the safety of other large cultural and entertainment events, including regional festivals, to ensure they proceed safely.
“This is really devastating. The tragedy and disaster that need not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul amid Halloween (celebrations),” Yoon said during the speech. “I feel heavy hearted and cannot contain my sadness as a president responsible for the people’s lives and safety.”
After the speech, Yoon visited the Itaewon alley where the disaster occurred. Local TV footage showed Yoon inspecting the alley filled with trash and being briefed by emergency officials.
It was not immediately clear what led the crowd to surge into the narrow downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul. One survivor said many people fell and toppled one another “like dominos” after they were pushed by others. The survivor, surnamed Kim, said they were trapped for about an hour and a half before being rescued, as some people shouted “Help me!” and others were short of breath, according to the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper.
Another survivor, Lee Chang-kyu, said he saw about five or six men push others before one or two began falling, according to the newspaper.
In an interview with news channel YTN, Hwang Min-hyeok, a visitor to Itaewon, said it was shocking to see rows of bodies near the hotel. He said emergency workers were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to administer CPR to the injured lying on the streets. People wailed beside the bodies of their friends, he said.
Another survivor in his 20s said he avoided being trampled by managing to get into a bar whose door was open in the alley, Yonhap news agency reported. A woman in her 20s surnamed Park told Yonhap that she and others were standing along the side of the alley while others caught in the middle of the alley had no escape.
Choi, the fire department chief, said that bodies were being sent to hospitals or a gym, where bereaved family members could identify them. He said most of the dead and injured are in their 20s.
“Horrific news from Seoul tonight,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted. “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time.”
Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, tweeted that reports of the disaster were “heartbreaking” and said Washington “stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs.”
The last South Korean disaster this deadly also hit young people the hardest. In April 2014, 304 people, mostly high school students, died in a ferry sinking. The sinking exposed lax safety rules and regulatory failures. It was partially blamed on excessive and poorly fastened cargo and a crew poorly trained for emergency situations. Saturday’s deaths will likely draw public scrutiny of what government officials have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.
More than 1,700 response personnel from across the country were deployed to the streets to help the wounded, including about 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers and 70 government workers. The National Fire Agency separately said in a statement that officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.
This was the deadliest crushing disaster in South Korean history. In 2005, 11 people were killed and around 60 others were injured at a pop concert in the southern city of Sangju.
In 1960, 31 people died after being crushed on the stairs of a train station as large crowds rushed to board a train during the Lunar New Year holidays.
Kim Tong-hyung And Hyung-jin Kim, The Associated Press
59 dead after Halloween crowd surge in Seoul
By Kim Tong-hyung And Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — At least 59 people were killed and 150 more were injured after being crushed by a large crowd pushing forward on a narrow street during Halloween festivities in the capital Seoul, South Korean officials said.
Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, said the death toll could grow as emergency workers were continuing to transport the injured to hospitals across Seoul following the stampede in the leisure district of Itaewon Saturday night.
Choi said 13 of the dead have been sent to hospitals while the bodies of the remaining 46 were still on the streets.
Officials say it was believed that people were crushed to death after a large crowd began pushing forward in a narrow alley near Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — At least nine people were killed and dozens more were injured after being crushed by a large crowd pushing forward on a narrow street during Halloween festivities in the capital Seoul, South Korean officials said.
Choi Cheon-sik, an official from the National Fire Agency, said at least 60 more people were being treated for injuries at hospitals and that the death toll could grow following the stampede in the leisure district of Itaewon Saturday night. Officials say it was believed that people were crushed to death after a large crowd began pushing forward in a narrow alley near Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul.
Officials from the National Fire Agency and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety earlier said about 100 were injured and around 50 were being treated for cardiac arrest as of early Sunday.
More than 400 emergency workers and 140 vehicles from around the nation, including all available personnel in Seoul, were deployed to the streets to treat the injured.
The National Fire Agency separately said in a statement that officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.
TV footage and photos from the scene showed ambulance vehicles lined up in streets amid a heavy police presence and emergency workers moving the injured in stretchers. Emergency workers and pedestrians were also seen performing CPR on people lying in the streets.
In one section, paramedics were seen checking that status of a dozen or more people who lied motionless under blue blankets.
Police, which were restricting traffic in nearby areas to speed up the transportation of the injured to hospitals across the city, also confirmed that dozens of people were being given CPR on Itaewon streets. The Seoul Metropolitan Government issued emergency text messages urging people in the area to swiftly return home.
A local police officer said he was also informed that a stampede occurred on Itaewon’s streets where a crowd of people gathered for Halloween festivities. The officer requested anonymity, saying the details of the incident was still under investigation.
Some local media reports earlier said the crush happened after a large number of people rushed to an Itaewon bar after hearing an unidentified celebrity visited there.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol issued a statement calling for officials to ensure swift treatment for those injured and review the safety of the festivity sites. He also instructed the Health Ministry to swiftly deploy disaster medical assistance teams and secure beds in nearby hospital to treat the injured.
Local media said around 100,000 people flocked to Itaewon streets for the Halloween festivities, which were the biggest since the start of the pandemic following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.
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