A resurgent Hurricane Ian slammed into the South Carolina coast on Friday afternoon, making another landfall after a destructive march across the Florida peninsula that washed away houses and stranded thousands along the state's Gulf Coast.
The Category 1 storm swept ashore near Georgetown, about 60 miles (97 km) north of the historic city of Charleston, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 85 mph (140 kph), according to the US National Hurricane Center.
Ian was expected to bring life-threatening flooding, storm surges and winds to South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina. Officials in all three states warned residents to prepare for dangerous conditions.
The hurricane came ashore on Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. mainland, transforming beach towns into disaster areas.
There have been reports of at least 21 deaths in Florida, Kevin Guthrie, director of the state's Division of Emergency Management, said at a morning briefing. He stressed that some of those reports remain unconfirmed.
What precautions have been taken by local governments?
By mid-morning on Friday, drivers were ordered off the roads in Charleston County, South Carolina, and the Charleston International Airport was closed because of high winds. The county, which has about 400,000 residents, has two shelters open and a third on standby, said spokesperson Kelsey Barlow.
Even before Ian's arrival, Charleston was seeing torrential rain. Video clips on social media showed several inches of water in some streets in the port city, which is especially prone to flooding.
A city-commissioned report released in November 2020 found that about 90% of all residential properties were vulnerable to storm surge flooding.
The National Weather Service warned of "life-threatening" storm surges along 125 miles (201 kilometers) of the South Carolina coast, from Isle of Palms near Charleston to the North Carolina border.
Even so, the expected storm surges are not as severe as the 12-foot (3.7-meter) surges that hit part of Florida's Gulf Coast earlier this week.
"We are in the heart of it right now," said Matt Storen, a police sergeant in Isle of Palms, a small beach community on a barrier island in South Carolina. "A lot of power outages, we are getting some downed trees."
Storen said wind gusts were 60 miles per hour (97 kph) and that some beach erosion had already occurred.
Two days after Ian first hit Florida, the extent of the damage there was becoming more apparent.
"Clearly it has packed a big wallop," Governor Ron DeSantis said at a briefing.
Some 10,000 people were unaccounted for, Guthrie said, but many of them were likely in shelters or without power. He said he expected the number to "organically" shrink in the coming days.
Just under 2 million homes and businesses remained without power on Friday, according to tracking service PowerOutage.us.
Fort Myers, a city close to where the eye of the storm first came ashore, absorbed a major blow, with numerous houses destroyed. Offshore, Sanibel Island, a popular destination for vacationers and retirees, was cut off when a causeway was rendered impassable.
Hundreds of beleaguered Fort Myers residents lined up at a Home Depot that opened early on Friday on the east side of the city, hoping to purchase gas cans, generators, bottled water and anything else needed to survive. The line stretched as long as a football field.
Many said they felt city and state governments were doing as much as possible to help people but that the lack of communication and uncertainty about the future weighed heavily on them.
Sarah Sodre-Crot and Marco Martins, a married couple and both 22, immigrated from Brazil with their families five years ago, seeking a better life than they had back home. They rode out the storm in their home in east Fort Myers.
"I know the government is doing everything they can, but we're feeling lost, like we have no answers. Will energy return in a week? In a month? We just want to know so we can plan our lives a bit," Sodre-Crot said.
Rita Chambers, a 70-year-old retiree who was born in Jamaica and has lived in Fort Myers since 1998, said Ian was unlike any storm she had ever seen.
"And I've been in hurricanes since I was a child!" said Chambers, who had moved to New York as a teenager.
She watched as the winds and flooding tore the porch right off her home in Cape Coral. Despite it all, she said she is not thinking of leaving Florida.
"I would rather shovel sand from my Florida home than shovel the snow in New York," she said. "If you live in paradise, you have to put up with a hurricane."