Devastated cities, millions of people without electricity but above all a human toll that could be “substantial”: Florida was just beginning on Thursday to take the measure of the considerable damage caused by Hurricane Ian.

As the images of streets transformed into canals of murky water multiply, of boats thrown to the ground like simple toys, of smashed houses, the latest balance sheet in Florida reports at least eight dead.

“This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history,” US President Joe Biden said during a visit to the offices of the federal agency that fights against natural disasters, Fema.

“The figures (…) are not yet clear but we are receiving initial information indicating human losses which could be substantial”, he added, ensuring that he wanted to go to the southern state as soon as possible, but also on the American territory of Puerto Rico, an island recently damaged by Hurricane Fiona.

A man, “went out to empty his swimming pool during the storm”, died

An official in Charlotte County, West Florida, confirmed to CNN the death of six people, without giving further details.

A spokesperson for Volusia County, on the east coast, announced that it had recorded "the first death linked to Hurricane Ian", a 72-year-old man, "went out to empty his swimming pool during the storm".

An official in Osceola County, in the central east of the state, told CNN of the death of a resident of a retirement home.

At the same time, the search continued to find 18 passengers of a migrant boat which capsized on Wednesday near the archipelago of the Keys, nine others having been rescued.

“We have never seen floods like this”

After a night of anguish, the inhabitants began the inventory of fixtures Thursday.

In the village of Iona, Ronnie Sutton, who has still not been able to return home, said he was convinced that the water had destroyed everything.

“It's awful.

I guess that's the price you pay when you live at sea level. Sometimes it backfires on you,” he lamented.

In Fort Myers, the flood submerged some boats, pushing others into the streets of downtown.

“These were terrifying noises, with debris flying everywhere, the doors in the air,” testified a resident who witnessed the destruction, Tom Johnson.

“We have never seen floods like this,” said Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

“Some of these areas, Cape Coral, the city of Fort Myers, were really flooded and really devastated by this storm,” he continued, calling the damage “historic.”

Additional federal funds for affected regions

Ian, since downgraded to a tropical storm, made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane (on a scale of 5) in southwest Florida, before continuing its passage through the state, carrying strong winds and torrential rains.

Thursday afternoon, more than 2.6 million homes or businesses remained without electricity, out of a total of 11 million, according to the specialized site PowerOutage.

Faced with the extent of the damage, US President Joe Biden declared a state of major natural disaster on Thursday morning, a decision to release additional federal funds for the affected regions.

Although weakened, Storm Ian continued its destructive course towards South Carolina on Thursday.

It is expected to strengthen, regaining hurricane strength when it makes landfall on Friday, before weakening rapidly again.

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