Rescuers searched for survivors among the ruins of Florida’s flooded homes from Hurricane Ian while authorities in South Carolina began assessing damage from its strike.
Now weakened to a post-tropical cyclone, Ian was expected to move across central North Carolina on Saturday then move into Virginia and New York.
At least 31 people were confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida, mostly from drowning but others from the storm’s tragic aftereffects. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said.
Meanwhile, distraught residents waded through knee-high water, salvaging what possessions they could from their flooded homes and loading them onto rafts and canoes.
“I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don’t know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said after shuffling through her mostly destroyed Fort Myers apartment, the mud in her kitchen clinging to her purple sandals.
The powerful storm, one of the strongest and costliest hurricanes to ever hit the US, terrorised millions of people for most of the week, battering western Cuba before raking across Florida from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where it mustered enough strength for a final assault on South Carolina.
In South Carolina, Ian’s centre came ashore near Georgetown, a small community along the Winyah Bay 95km (60miles) north of historic Charleston. The storm washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two connected to the popular tourist town of Myrtle Beach.
The storm’s winds were much weaker than during Ian’s landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week. Authorities and volunteers there were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of what they just lived through.
Anthony Rivera, 25, said he had to climb through the window of his first-floor apartment during the storm to carry his grandmother and girlfriend to the second floor. As they hurried to escape the rising water, the storm surge washed a boat right up next to his apartment.
“That’s the scariest thing in the world because I can’t stop no boat,” he said. “I’m not Superman.”
Pawleys Island, a beach community about 117km (73 miles) up South Carolina’s coast from Charleston, was among the places hardest hit by Ian.
Eddie Wilder, who has been coming to Pawleys Island for more than six decades, said the storm was “insane to watch”. He said waves as high as 7.6 metres (25 feet) washed away the pier, just two doors down from his home.
“We watched it hit the pier and saw the pier disappear,” said Wilder. “I’ve seen quite a few storms and this one was wild … We had a front-row seat.”
Even though Ian has long passed over Florida, new problems continued to arise. A 22-km (14-mile) stretch of Interstate 75 was closed in both directions in the Port Charlotte area because of the massive amount of water swelling the Myakka River.
Further southeast, the Peace River was also at a major flood stage early Saturday in Polk, Hardee and DeSoto counties.
The official death toll climbed with authorities warning it would likely rise much higher once crews made a more comprehensive sweep of the damage.
Hurricane Ian has likely caused “well over $100bn’’ in damage, including $63bn in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modelling firm Karen Clark Co. If those numbers are borne out, that would make Ian at least the fourth-costliest hurricane in US history.