The death toll from Tropical Storm Ian remained unclear early Thursday after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said it brought “historic” damage to the state, hours after President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Florida amid what the National Hurricane Center described as “catastrophic flooding” over east and central parts of the state.

“We’ve never seen a flood event like this,” DeSantis said.

Two people were reported dead Thursday, though DeSantis said it was still unconfirmed whether their deaths were storm-related or if they died amid the storm from other causes. Local officials reported that a 34-year-old man died in Martin County, just north of Palm Beach, and a 72-year-old man died in Volusia County on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. The Lee County sheriff said Thursday he believed “hundreds” might be dead after the storm made landfall to the north, though no numbers have been confirmed as search and rescue efforts are underway.

Here’s what to know

  • The National Hurricane Center said Ian, which is heading toward Florida’s northeast with maximum sustained winds of about 65 miles per hour, is expected to further weaken Friday night and into Saturday but may re-intensify at times, and “could be near hurricane strength” on Friday when it approaches South Carolina.
  • Ian battered parts of Florida’s western coast, tearing down trees and power lines and causing dangerous storm surges in parts of the state. Authorities in Fort Myers, which was badly hit, said late Wednesday that parts of the city were under 3 to 4 feet of water. To the south in Naples, half of the streets “are not passable due to high water,” Collier County warned in a tweet.
  • Hurricane warnings that were in effect for parts of Florida’s east and west coasts were changed early Thursday to tropical storm warnings. Several airports across the state suspended commercial operations and canceled flights.