The deaths of more than 100 people in Florida have been attributed to Hurricane Ian, and most of those fatalities were the result of drowning.
Ian slammed into the Fort Myers area of Southwest Florida on Sept. 28 as a Category 4 hurricane with 150-mph winds. Those terrible winds pushed ashore feet of water from the Gulf of Mexico that tore across barrier islands and gutted buildings along the coast.
A destroyed house following Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, Oct. 4, 2022. (Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg)
Most of the fatalities happened in Lee County, where more than 50 deaths were reported. That was followed by Monroe and Sarasota counties with seven fatalities each.
Here’s a closer look at data on Ian-related deaths from the Medical Examiners Commission via the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Drowning was the No. 1 cause of death during Ian
According to the data, nearly 60% of people who died in the storm drowned. Some were found by search-and-rescue crews in Ian’s aftermath, while others were found by friends or family members who came to check on them after the storm. In some cases, officials noted that the victim did not evacuate before feet of storm surge arrived.
Ian was no exception to the rule that water is the No. 1 killer during a hurricane or tropical storm – whether it’s the storm surge, high surf or flooding rains. A 2014 study by Edward Rappaport, former deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, found that nearly half of the fatalities during these types of storms from 1963 to 2012 were related to storm-surge flooding. About a quarter of them were related to freshwater floods and mudslides.
Before Ian made landfall, the National Hurricane Center warned that 12-18 feet of storm surge was possible along the coast in the Fort Myers area, with up to 12 feet possible in the Naples area south of there.
Most victims were 70 or older
An overwhelming majority of Hurricane Ian’s victims were 70 or older, according to the data. Nearly a quarter of the people whose deaths are related to Ian were in their 70s, nearly 21% were in their 80s and about 5% were in their 90s.
Older Americans are extremely vulnerable when it comes to natural disasters. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, three out of four people who died during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were 60 or older even though they represented just 16% of the total population. During Hurricane Florence in 2018, two of three people who died were 60 or older.
There are several reasons for this, according to FEMA, including an inability to drive, limited access to public transportation, finances, caring for spouses and reliance on home-based medical equipment.
Lack of medical access was also a leading cause of death
The fury of Hurricane Ian made travel dangerous if not impossible, even for emergency crews. In the aftermath, bridges that connected barrier islands to the mainland were washed away and the power grid was left in shambles.
This meant that some people were cut off from life-saving medical care during and after the storm.
According to the data, a little more than 12% of Hurricane Ian’s victims died as a result of an inability to access medical services or the delay the storm caused to emergency response.
Mental health also a factor in Ian-related deaths
At least three suicides and a homicide in Florida have been attributed to Hurricane Ian, according to the data.
Officials said two of those three suicides were of people who appeared to be despondent after seeing the destruction wrought by the storm. In the homicide case, investigators said a relief worker was shot and killed after an altercation with another person.
Psychologist Dr. Carole Lieberman said during an interview with FOX Weather on Tuesday that mental health becomes a real concern in the aftermath of a disaster like Ian. She said it can bring out the best and the worst in people.
"People should not expect themselves to just bounce back, you know, just because the hurricane has passed," Lieberman said.
She recommended people put any pre-storm goals they had on hold and concentrate on the basics while avoiding drugs and alcohol.
Lieberman also said people who may be struggling themselves can feel better by helping others in need.
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, please call or text 988 to reach the Suicide Crisis Lifeline.