As it passes 1am in Florida, the full extent of damage from Hurricane Ian is likely to remain unknown for some hours, with power and communications disrupted in many areas and some emergency responders forced to wait for the return of daylight and safer conditions before beginning a full search and rescue operation.
While no deaths have yet been reported in the US, Ian killed two people in Cuba and a boat carrying 23 Cuban migrants sank Wednesday in stormy weather east of Key West.
The storm was one of the strongest to ever hit the US when it slammed into the Florida coast as a Category 4 hurricane, with winds of 150mph winds and a deadly storm surge of up to 18ft.
Winds have since dropped to about 90mph, but the National Hurricane Centre has warned that torrential rains pose risks of catastrophic flooding across central Florida. Storm surges may hit the east coast of the state on Thursday morning as Ian passes over and turns north to threaten Georgia and South Carolina.
The state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, said earlier on Wednesday that Ian would leave a permanent mark on Florida.
“Pray for people,” DeSantis told reporters. “There’s some storms that really leave an indelible impact … this is going to be one of those historic storms and it’s going to shape the communities in south-west Florida and have a profound impact on our state.
“This is going to be a rough stretch. So we just ask people for their thoughts and their prayers. This is a major, major storm.”
There are now more than 2.2 million Florida residents without electricity as the storm moves inland.
The Poweroutages.us website, which tracks blackouts across the US, shows that Okeechobee county in central Florida is the latest to be affected, with nearly three-quarters of customers losing power.