WhenHurricane Ianthat hit Florida's southwest coast last month, those who didn't evacuate faced conditions so dangerous that rescues were sometimes impossible.
fearsomestormand the torrential downpours made this the deadliest storm in the state in generations.
A72 year old manin Port Charlotte died after his kayak capsized in a canal. He was looking for items lost in the flood.
A54 year old manin Fort Myers Beach, got stuck in a window and drowned when floodwaters hit his home.
A64 year old womannear Naples, drowned in his home after deciding not to evacuate.
NAPLES, Fla. — Rose Marie Santangelo has weathered many hurricanes in her decades of living by the water outside Naples, Fla. She also thought she was prepared for Hurricane Ian.
But like so many other Florida residents, Santangelo, 73, a beloved aunt who retired from a career in radiation oncology, downplayed this storm.
“She really thought it wasn't going to happen here,” said Phyllis Santangelo, a niece. “And then when everything changed, I think she knew it was going to be bad.”
Ian caused more deaths in Florida - at least 114 - than any hurricane in nearly 90 years. Another five people died from the storm in North Carolina, as well as one in Virginia. Like Santangelo, residents were trapped in floodwaters inside their homes. Others stopped breathing when power cuts left oxygen machines inoperable. Or died in cars when the storm rose.
But the storm's impact, while felt broadly, was not uniform.
Most victims were elderly. Two-thirds of them were aged 60 or older, and 30 were in their 80s.
People who died were concentrated in exposed coastal areas and on barrier islands. While 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 said.size, relatively slow movementand a huge storm multiplied its threat.
As residents sift 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 in the floods. In some of the worst-hit areas, evacuation orders that were delayed amid changes in the storm's trajectory added to the confusion.
Area of tropical storm force winds
At least55 peopledied in Lee County.
gulf of mexico
At least55 peopledied in Lee County.
Area of tropical storm force winds
At least55 peopledied in Lee County.
gulf of mexico
Many victims had significant medical problems.
As Hurricane Ian approached southwest Florida, Peggy Collson, 67, became increasingly concerned about her ability to survive. She lived alone in the island community of Matlacha, in a modest one-story house on the waterfront that had withstood previous hurricanes. But Ms. Collson, who received daily care from nursing aides and was unable to walk unaided, knew she would be at risk.
Just days before the hurricane, she tried to leave the island, said her brother Jim Collson, who lives in New York. But she finally decided to stay. On the morning of the storm, September 28, her fears increased.
“She was so nervous she was nauseous,” he said.
Mrs. Collson drowned. She was found floating in a canal just a few blocks from her home.
The evacuation was especially challenging for many Florida seniors with health issues, leaving them with limited options.
One87 year old manin Lee County, who had poor health, fell and hit his head twice. He did not seek care because of the storm and ended up dying after falling asleep.
One89 year old manin Lee County died after his oxygen machine stopped working due to a power outage and generator failure.
One82 year old manin Lee County, was evacuated to a safer location, but died because he left his prescription drugs at home.
And there was Mrs. Santangelo, who had suffered from a back injury for years and used a walker in her two-bedroom pink home.
As the hurricane approached, Ms. Santangelo stayed in touch with family members in her home state of Ohio. But on the afternoon of September 28th, she stopped responding to his calls and texts. When a neighbor stopped by to check on her the next day, according to the sheriff's incident report, he found her dead on the kitchen floor. She had drowned.
Five of Mrs. Santangelo's nieces and nephews came from Ohio to clean the house. Ten days after the storm, they were around the kitchen island by candlelight, drinking their aunt's favorite Pinot Grigio. They planned to scatter her ashes around the palm trees.
“She was very loved,” said Phyllis Santangelo. “She never had children; we were her children.
The long waits for rescue were sometimes too long.
Alice F. Argo called law enforcement 10 times in nearly 12 hours as floodwaters rose at her home in New Smyrna Beach, on Florida's Atlantic coast, where Ian dumped heavy rains after sweeping across the state.
Around noon on September 29, Mrs. Argo told dispatchers that the water was up to her knees. She later said her husband, Jerry W. Argo, 67, had fallen and hit his head. She kept calling. They told her they had a backlog of rescue calls and were waiting for specialized equipment to get through the floodwaters.
Lisa Mitchell, daughter of Mrs. Argo, said that Argo fell off a bar stool into the water. Mrs. Argo tried to support his head to keep him above water. It was not enough.
When the Volusia County Sheriff's Office responded that night, Mr. Argo was dead from drowning. He was one of several Florida residents that emergency crews were unable to reach in time.
A72 year old manin Hendry County complained of shortness of breath, but paramedics were unable to reach him because of the storm. He was later found unconscious outside his home.
A75 year old manin Lee County with heart disease collapsed. Emergency crews were unable to attend immediately.
A70 year old womanin Lee County was found chest-deep in floodwaters and taken to the hospital hours later. She had a urinary tract infection in addition to other conditions and subsequently died. The medical response was delayed by the storm.
The Volusia County Sheriff's Office said it was investigating whether more vehicles capable of traveling in high water needed to be purchased.
Mitchell said she wished she could have helped, but she too got stuck: "My whole backyard was flooded."
Ian's death toll was historic, but the exact figures can be confusing.
On October 1, shortly after Ian's brutal impact on southwest Florida, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office said via email that "we currently have 23 deaths that are directly or indirectly related to the storm." She added that the local coroner would later determine the official causes of death. Two days later, she said the death toll in Charlotte County had risen to 24.
But until this week, the medical examiner there had linked only eight of those deaths to Hurricane Ian, ruling that most of the rest weren't caused by the storm after all.
The difference in numbers in Charlotte County underscores the subjective science of determining which storm deaths were at least in part caused by the storm.
Some findings are obvious, such as when a person drowns after their home is flooded during a hurricane. But some are less clear.
In other Florida counties, coroners added four suicides, one homicide, motor vehicle accidents and several heart attacks to the state's official hurricane death toll, determining that circumstances caused by the storm contributed to the deaths.
A73 year old manin Lee County, shot and killed himself after seeing property damage caused by the hurricane.
A22 year old womanin Manatee County, died when he crashed his all-terrain vehicle after the road was destroyed.
A29 year old manin Hendry County was shot dead by someone else after an argument. The victim was a contractor sent to the area to help with relief efforts.
Data in this article are based on official state totals, which are based on the judgment of local medical examiners. In articles published before the Charlotte County medical examiner confirmed that the other deaths were unrelated to the storm, The New York Times relied on Charlotte County data provided by the sheriff's office. Because of the time it can take medical examiners to perform autopsies and report their findings, news outlets often rely on preliminary reports from authorities to determine the number of casualties from a hurricane.
It's relatively common for death counts to change: In Lee County, the medical examiner ruled that six deaths reported by the sheriff were not linked to Ian. Some Florida counties continued to tally deaths this week, meaning the current tally may not be definitive.
Away from the coast, Ian was still claiming victims.
Not long after Ian arrived on the mainland, Craig Steven Markgraff Jr., known as CJ, called his brother for help.
“I explained to him that I was already in the middle of it,” said his brother, Brett Markgraff, who was in another city with his son.
CJ, his father and a friend tried to escape the storm near Zolfo Springs, a small town almost an hour's drive from the Gulf Coast. But being inland was no defense against the massive amounts of rain and flooding that the storm brought.
As conditions improved, on the morning of September 29, Brett Markgraff left for his brother's house, but the road where his brother lived was under water. CJ stopped responding to messages, so Brett Markgraff tried to take a canoe home. He was stopped by state officials who blocked off the area.
Later, rescue workers saved CJ's father and friend, who were found clinging to trees. But there was no sign of CJ, who was last seen struggling to stay above water as a current swept him away. He was one of many Floridians who died far from the coast.
A38 yearsman died in central Lake County when his vehicle hydroplaned and crashed.
One85 years oldA man in Putnam County, northeast Florida, fell off a ladder and died while putting a tarp on his roof.
A75 year old manin Orange County, Orlando, was pruning branches that had been damaged by the storm when he fell off a ladder and died.
Brett Markgraff said rescuers told him they looked for CJ, 35, but after about an hour, they had to move on.
“I was stunned and helpless,” said Markgraff.
A few days later, a detective called the father and said that CJ's body had been found and identified by his tattoos.
Some left home and were trapped.
Ian Conway, 61, a retired pilot, lived in a beige one-bedroom house in an RV community in Estero, on the banks of the Estero River. Living in an area prone to flooding, he always assured Margot Conway, one of his two daughters, that he would go to shelter in the event of a severe hurricane.
On the morning of Hurricane Ian, he sent an email to his brothers saying he was going to a shelter, Conway said. But he never got there.
Just before 7 am the next morning, a neighbor called Mrs. Conway in Washington State. Her father was found dead from drowning, lying on a bench in the shuffleboard court across the street from their home.
Mr Conway's death was one of several in which people left their homes, whether to seek shelter, make final preparations or assess the damage, only to end up becoming victims.
A63 year old womanin Collier County slipped and fell into a puddle while evacuating her home. In an hour, she didn't answer.
A91 year old womanin Collier County fell during evacuation, fracturing a bone. She died two weeks later after receiving hospice care.
A72 year old manin Volusia County was draining water from its pool into a canal as the storm approached. He was found dead in the canal.
Last summer Mr. Conway's health took a turn for the worse. Mrs. Conway, an emergency room nurse, encouraged her father to adopt assisted living, but he wanted to live alone.
Ten days after the hurricane, Mrs. Conway spent a quiet moment at the funeral home with her father's remains, playing her favorite Smiths song.
“I have to say goodbye,” she said. “I didn't think I would be able to.”
Alex Lemonides and Campbell Robertson contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy and Kitty Bennett contributed research.
Eliza Fawcettis a National Desk reporter and a member of the 2022-2023 New York Times Fellowship Class. Learn more about Eliza Fawcett
Mitch Smithspans the Midwest and the Great Plains. Since joining The Times in 2014, he has written extensively on gun violence, pipelines, state politics and the national debate over police tactics. He lives in Chicago. Learn more about Mitch Smith
Ava Sasaniis a reporter for the national newsroom. Learn more about Ava Sasani
Francis Roblesis a Florida-based correspondent that also covers Puerto Rico and Central America. His investigation of a Brooklyn homicide detective led to the overturning of more than a dozen murder convictions and won him a George Polk Award. Learn more about Frances Robles
Eden Weingartis an illustrator, designer and art director for The Times. She led the visual direction for coverage ranging from the New York City mayoral race to the Olympics. Learn more about Eden Weingart
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