A resurgent Hurricane Ian barreled toward South Carolina on Friday, a day after carving a path of destruction across the Florida peninsula, washing away houses, causing a causeway to collapse and stranding thousands along the state's Gulf Coast.
The hurricane led to at least 21 confirmed or unconfirmed deaths in Florida, Kevin Guthrie, director of the state's Division of Emergency Management, said at a morning briefing. It was the first time a state official offered an estimate of the human toll.
Ian, which had weakened to a tropical storm during its march across Florida, was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane on Thursday as it churned toward South Carolina with maximum sustained wind speeds of 85 mph, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
The hurricane was forecast to hit north of low-lying Charleston at about 2pm ET on Friday, bringing potentially life-threatening flooding, storm surges and winds. Hundreds of miles of coastline, stretching from Georgia to North Carolina, were under a hurricane warning.
Officials in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina urged residents to prepare for dangerous conditions.
By mid-morning on Friday in Charleston and Charleston County, South Carolina, everyone was ordered off the roads and the Charleston International Airport was closed because of high winds.
Kelsey Barlow, a spokeswoman for Charleston County, home to more than 400,000 residents, said that the county has two shelters open and a third on standby.
"But it's too late for people to come to the shelters. The storm is here. Everyone needs to shelter in place, stay off the roads," Barlow said.
Barlow said a storm surge of more than seven feet was expected, on top of the noon high tide that could bring another six feet of water, causing massive flooding.
With the eye of the storm still hours away, torrential rain had already arrived in Charleston. Video clips on social media showed several inches of water in some streets in the historic port city, which is especially prone to flooding. (Reuters)