TALLAHASSEE — At least 1,700 people remain in emergency shelters five days after Hurricane Ian ravaged the Southwest Florida coast and parts of Central Florida, a figure that demonstrates the enormity of the post-hurricane crisis as recovery efforts are underway.
It remains unclear how many of those people lost their homes in the storm, but state officials on Monday morning said they are preparing plans for emergency housing.
The next phase will be to consolidate the number of shelters in each county and move people to short-term shelters. Currently, there are 27 shelters across 12 counties. Many of those shelters are schools.
Then, Federal Emergency Management Agency will take the lead in coordinating the availability of trailers, which will serve as temporary housing for people who are in need of it, said Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s emergency management director. Hotels may also serve as temporary shelters, he said.
“We’ve got to determine how many people we have in that bucket and will start moving to that very quickly,” Guthrie said.
As the state starts to make plans for transitional housing, Guthrie said there are challenges in some of the hardest-hit counties, specifically Lee County, where he said water service has not yet been restored to some hotels.
The state has hired a firm to start restoring water to those hotels and other buildings and households. Guthrie said the goal is to restore water to all the customers who have the infrastructure to receive it by Sunday.
The same goes for power, Guthrie said. The goal is to restore power by Sunday for all customers whose power lines and infrastructure can still receive electricity, he said.
As recovery efforts remain underway, state officials have not provided an exact number of people who remain unaccounted for.
Rescue crews have been going street by street, doing a grid search of what is left in the areas impacted by Ian.
As of Monday evening, the state’s death toll rose to about 100, with Lee County accounting for about half — 54 — according to Sheriff Carmine Marceno. Most died by drowning.
As search and rescue efforts continue, people have speculated there could be many more bodies buried under debris or carried away by high water.
But state officials are not providing any numbers just yet.
Jamie Grant, the state’s chief information officer, has been tracking data of those who sheltered in place in impacted areas and those who have been contacted and deemed safe, but said he could not provide an exact number of those who are unaccounted for or deemed not safe, though that number could be in the thousands.
Grant said 20,650 households are known to have sheltered in place during the storm, based on data compiled from people who registered to let the state know they were not evacuating.
Of those, 10,416 households have been reported “safe,” Grant said. Due to landlines being down and disruptions to cell phone services, the state might not be able to reach some people.
Just because the state can’t reach them doesn’t mean they are not safe, officials said.
“As batteries are dead and wet and phones are down, it’s impossible for me to even know in some situations if somebody received the text (message),” Grant said. “But we are still getting responses.”
Guthrie said he is “fairly confident” that rescue crews have been able to search every address that was registered in advance of the storm.
“We believe that we have searched everything very quickly,” he said.
Miami Herald reporter Tess Riski contributed to this report.
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
FEMA: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.
THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
WHAT TO DO IF HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.