Monday, 11 Dec 2023

Vulnerable and Trapped: A Look at Those Lost in Hurricane Ian

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By Eliza Fawcett, Mitch Smith, Ava Sasani, Frances Robles and Eden Weingart

NAPLES, Fla. — Rose Marie Santangelo had weathered many hurricanes in her decades living near the water outside Naples, Fla. She thought she was prepared for Hurricane Ian, too.

But like so many other Floridians, Ms. Santangelo, 73, a beloved aunt who had retired from a career in radiation oncology, underestimated this storm.

“She really thought that it wouldn’t hit here,” Phyllis Santangelo, a niece, said. “And then when it did take a turn, I think she knew it was going to be bad.”

Ian caused more deaths in Florida — at least 114 — than any hurricane in almost 90 years. Five other people died from the storm in North Carolina, as well as one in Virginia. Like Ms. Santangelo, residents became trapped in floodwaters inside their homes. Others stopped breathing when power outages left oxygen machines inoperable. Or they perished in cars as the storm surge rose.

But the storm’s impact, while broadly felt, was not even.

Most of the victims were older adults. Two-thirds of them were 60 or older, and 30 were past their 80th birthdays.

The people who died were concentrated in exposed coastal areas and on barrier islands. Though deaths were reported in 21 counties, nearly half came from Lee County, in southwest Florida.

And a large number of victims — at least 58 — drowned, as Ian’s size, relatively slow movement and massive storm surge multiplied its threat.

As residents sort through the wreckage in Florida, a look at who died and where revealed how an aging population on the coast proved especially vulnerable to Ian. In many cases, the people who died had pre-existing medical problems, waited too long to evacuate and were trapped by floodwaters. In some of the hardest-hit areas, evacuation orders that were delayed amid a shifting storm track added to the confusion.

Confirmed Deaths by County in Florida During Hurricane Ian

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