The San Juan Daily Star
Hurricane Ian leaves flooding and damage far from the Florida coast
By Richard Fausset, Campbell Robertson and Shawn Hubler
The emergency call came from the nursing home shortly after 5 a.m.: Water was seeping into the low-slung, low-lying complex called Avante at Orlando, and threatening its 106 elderly residents, some of them too frail to walk.
By daybreak, dozens of rescue workers had descended on Avante, which bills itself as a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center. The water in the building was about 1 foot deep, but it was perhaps as high as 3 feet in the parking lot outside. Many of the patients were wheeled out on cots, white sheets billowing in the whipping winds trailing Hurricane Ian, their faces filled with fear and confusion. Soon, they were taken in vans and buses to shelters and hospitals.
As epic rain and high wind pounded much of Central Florida on Thursday, a picture emerged of what the storm had wrought, from inconvenience to lethal catastrophe. It ranged from utter devastation on the southwestern coast to flooding in San Augustine in its northeastern corner.
But as awful as the damage was, some areas felt they got off easy.
Despite a “historic” 14 inches of rain, the city of Orlando said in a statement Thursday that no injuries had yet been reported, and the mayor of surrounding Orange County said he was “cautiously optimistic.”
“The worst of the storm has passed,” Mayor Jerry Demings said Thursday morning, noting that winds had been “significantly lower than expected” and the county had received only about half of the 2 feet of rain that had been predicted.
That said, the Orlando neighborhood of Rio Pinar Estates had become a giant, impassible lake as the mayor briefed the public, and some 200,000 residents were without electricity. The houses, many of them broad, one-story ranches, had not gone under, although many had taken on water: in the street it appeared to be 3 feet deep or more in places. Rescue crews had taken out some residents in boats.
At around 11 a.m., Ava King, who lives in the last house before the water started, was yelling at the driver of a pickup truck that was nosing into the water. “I wouldn’t do it,” she hollered.
The truck was in up to its headlights. It slowly backed up.
Inside, the power was out, and towels were all over the floor. A little water had seeped in, and a creek that runs behind the house was engorged and took up the entire backyard. King’s neighbor, Jessica Murphy, 39, was sprawled out on a sofa. She lives two doors down. She said she had to swim to King’s house.
“I tried to get out my front door. It wouldn’t open because there was so much water on the other side,” she said. “So I had to go out the boys’ room window in the front of the house.” she said.