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Ian slows down as hurricane death toll grows in Florida

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Hurricane Ian’s death toll rose to more than 77 Saturday as one of the strongest and costliest storms to ever hit the U.S. swept north from the Carolinas, leaving behind a trifecta of misery — dangerous flooding, blackouts and mass destruction.

Ian, who slammed into Florida on Wednesday with 150 mph winds, was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone after moving through South Carolina and was expected to weaken even more as it moved south from central Virginia later on Saturday before he rolled into the mid-Atlantic.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm still had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

But the NHC also warned of potential flash flooding in both urban and rural areas in the central Appalachians and southern Mid-Atlantic region over the weekend, as well as ongoing record river flooding in parts of Florida.

The 77 confirmed storm-related deaths were recorded in Florida, according to a count by state officials and a count from NBC News. And with rescue efforts underway and floodwaters receding in areas littered with destroyed homes, local officials warned the death toll could still rise.

At least 1,100 rescues have been made in Florida since Ian made landfall in the state, Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Saturday.

“There’s been a great outpouring of support and I’ve seen a lot of resilience in this community of people looking to pick themselves up and get their community back on its feet,” DeSantis told reporters. “We will be here and we will help every step of the way.”

Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson, who commands the Coast Guard in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, told the Today Show Saturday morning that blackouts made rescue efforts more difficult as people in affected communities were temporarily cut off from the rest of the world without cell phone service or electricity.

A pedestrian carries an umbrella during hard rain in Charleston, SCScott Olson / Getty Images

“It’s one of the biggest challenges,” he said. “Immediately after this storm, we had to search and find aircrews who were looking for people who needed help.”

But, McPherson said, most areas cut off in southwest Florida are now accessible by air or by urban search and rescue teams going door-to-door by boat.

In Florida, nearly 1.3 million homes and businesses were still without power early Saturday, three days after Ian hit the state.

In Fort Myers, which suffered from Ian early on, residents waded through knee-deep water, using canoes and rafts to salvage whatever belongings they could find from their flooded homes.

“I want to sit in the corner and cry,” Stevie Scuderi told The Associated Press as she shuffled through her largely destroyed Fort Myers apartment, the mud in her kitchen sticking to her purple sandals. “I don’t know what else to do.”

In South Carolina, Ian’s eye made landfall near Georgetown, a small community along Winyah Bay about 100 miles 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. More than 62,000 customers had no power.

Phil McCausland reported from South Carolina, Leila Sackur reported from London, England, Corky Siemaszko from New York City.

Associated Press contributed.

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