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FL: People Trapped, 2.5M Without Power 09/29 06:02

   Hurricane Ian left a path of destruction in southwest Florida, trapping 
people in flooded homes, damaging the roof of a hospital intensive care unit 
and knocking out power to 2.5 million people as it dumped rain across the 
peninsula on Thursday.

   ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Hurricane Ian left a path of destruction in 
southwest Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, damaging the roof of a 
hospital intensive care unit and knocking out power to 2.5 million people as it 
dumped rain across the peninsula on Thursday.

   One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States threatened 
catastrophic flooding around the state. Ian's tropical-storm-force winds 
extended outward up to 415 miles (665 km), and nearly all of Florida was 
getting drenched.

   The National Hurricane Center said Ian became a tropical storm over land 
early Thursday and was expected to regain near-hurricane strength after 
emerging over Atlantic waters near the Kennedy Space Center later in the day, 
with South Carolina in its sights for a second U.S. landfall.

   A stretch of the Gulf Coast remained inundated by ocean water, pushed ashore 
by the massive storm. "Severe and life-threatening storm surge inundation of 8 
to 10 feet above ground level along with destructive waves is ongoing along the 
southwest Florida coastline from Englewood to Bonita Beach, including Charlotte 
Harbor," the Miami-based hurricane center said.

   In Port Charlotte, the storm surge flooded a hospital's emergency room even 
as fierce winds ripped away part of the roof from its intensive care unit, 
according to a doctor who works there.

   Water gushed down onto the ICU, forcing them to evacuate their sickest 
patients -- some on ventilators -- to other floors, said Dr. Birgit Bodine of 
HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital. Staff members used towels and plastic bins to try 
to mop up the sodden mess.

   The medium-sized hospital spans four floors, but patients crowded into two 
because of the damage, and more were expected with people injured from the 
storm needing help.

   "As long as our patients do OK and nobody ends up dying or having a bad 
outcome, that's what matters," Bodine said.

   Law enforcement officials in nearby Fort Myers received calls from people 
trapped in flooded homes or from worried relatives. 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."

   Hurricane Ian turned streets into rivers and blew down trees as it slammed 
into southwest Florida on Wednesday with 150 mph (241 kph) winds, pushing a 
wall of storm surge. Ian's strength at landfall was Category 4, tying it for 
the fifth-strongest hurricane, when measured by wind speed, ever to strike the 
U.S.

   Ian dropped to a tropical storm early Thursday over land, but was expected 
to intensify again once its center moves over the Atlantic Ocean and menace the 
South Carolina coast Friday at near-hurricane strength before moving inland.

   At 5 a.m. Thursday, the storm was about 40 miles (70 km) southeast of 
Orlando and 35 miles (55 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.

   Hurricane warnings were lowered to tropical storm warnings across the 
Florida peninsula, with widespread, catastrophic flooding remaining likely, the 
hurricane center said. Storm surges as high as 6 feet (2 meters) were still 
forecast for both coasts.

   "It doesn't matter what the intensity of the storm is. We're still expecting 
quite a bit of rainfall," Robbie Berg, senior hurricane specialist with the 
National Hurricane Center, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

   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.

   No deaths were reported in the United States from Ian by late Wednesday. But 
a 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 tore into Cuba, killing two people and bringing down 
the country's electrical grid.

   The hurricane's eye made landfall near Cayo Costa, a barrier island just 
west of heavily populated Fort Myers. As it approached, water drained from 
Tampa Bay.

   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.

   Life-threatening storm surges and hurricane conditions were possible on 
Thursday and Friday along the coasts of northeast Florida, Georgia, and South 
Carolina, where Ian was expected to move inland, dumping more rain well in from 
the coast, the hurricane center said.

   The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia all 
preemptively declared states of emergency.

 
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