TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno confirmed “about 35” additional deaths Saturday in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s devastation across much of southwest Florida.
The announcement comes after officials in the state had already confirmed dozens of deaths across Florida.
Sheriff Marceno said his emergency response teams have been hard at work assessing damage and continuing their search-and-rescue operations.
“Today we’ve had over 600 to 700 rescues of people that are in need during this difficult time, with about 35 deaths, unfortunately,” Marceno said in a video released by the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff said his team is working to release information on those killed, but noted the lengthy process required before identifications can be made public. Marceno did not immediately confirm whether all the deaths were storm-related.
“Next-of-kin and family members have to be notified,” the sheriff added.
Some residents of Lee County, located south of Sarasota and Charlotte Counties, had expressed concern over officials delaying evacuation orders until Tuesday, with one telling the Tampa Bay Times it “didn’t make sense” to wait that long.
“I may not have evacuated if it had not been for the news reports,” the Fort Myers woman told the outlet.
The National Hurricane Center, meanwhile, had said on Monday evening that “life-threatening” storm surges were expected for many areas in Florida, including Fort Myers, located in the center of Lee County, The New York Times reported.
Other counties just north of Lee, including Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte, had already issued evacuations on Monday, roughly a half-day before Lee County officials mandated evacuations on Tuesday morning, according to The New York Times.
Kevin Guthrie, the chief of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, later claimed officials “made the best decision they could based on the information they had at the time,” noting that the hurricane was projected to make landfall further up the coast, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Marceno’s update on Saturday morning only highlights just how hard the area was affected by the powerful storm.
Marceno added that people from all over the state had come together “as a whole” to recover from the devastating hit.
“Everyone from our Governor Ron DeSantis to CFO Jimmy Patronis, our Attorney General, sheriffs all over the state, have given manpower to us here in Lee County,” Marceno said. “What a blessing that is.”