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As Ian Wreaks Havoc, Medical Support Departs for Florida, South Carolina

Millions without power across the state as the storm tracks toward South Carolina.


Hurricane Ian

Shipments of medical aid depart for multiple health facilities across Florida on Sept. 28, 2022, in response to Hurricane Ian. (Brea Burkholz/Direct Relief)

Hurricane Ian’s devastation came into focus Thursday, as images emerged of widespread devastation in Florida communities, including Lee County, which includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral. More than 2.6 million people were without power on Thursday in Florida, and an estimated 1,500 cell sites were down, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The storm made landfall as Category Four hurricane on Wednesday and temporarily weakened as it moved across Florida. However, Ian is expected to strengthen back into hurricane status and is tracking toward South Carolina’s coast. Officials in Charleston, South Carolina, have urged residents of the barrier islands and low-lying parts of the coast to evacuate.

Direct Relief has also been in communication with health facilities in South Carolina, and the organization has a number of hurricane modules staged at health centers across the state, including three in Hurricane Ian’s current forecast path: Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic in Johns Island, Fetter Health Center Network in Charleston, and Sumter Family Health Center Pharmacy in Sumter.

On Thursday, Direct Relief was preparing additional medical support for Fetter Health Center Network, as well as a dozen other shipments for health facilities across Florida. Several shipments departed Wednesday for health centers across the state, and included cold chain shipments of insulin, antibiotics, wound care essentials and more.

The shipments will continue, and add to the 12 hurricane preparedness packs that were staged across Florida before Hurricane Ian made landfall. Each pack contains more than 200 items commonly requested after hurricanes, including chronic disease medications to keep people out of local emergency rooms.

Evacuations and findings

About a third of Lee County, one of the hardest hit by Ian’s impacts, are adults aged 65 years and older. People most vulnerable to storms like Ian are older adults, young children, people with disabilities, and limited access to transportation.

As Hurricane Ian made landfall near the counties of Charlotte and Lee, widespread reductions in population could be detected throughout the area, according to an analysis published Thursday from Crisis Ready, a joint initiative between Direct Relief and Harvard University School of Public Health.

Using anonymized, aggregated data provided by Meta, Direct Relief has insight into how evacuations took place, and when.

“Charlotte and Lee saw population reductions between 65% and 74%. These reductions, however, took place only on the final day prior to landfall. Using the Facebook data alone as a signal, we can detect more than 100,000 people remaining in the heavily flooded coastal counties of Charlotte, Lee, Sarasota, and DeSoto,” according to the report.

On the 28th, no town or municipality registered increasing population numbers, and areas including Cape Coral and Port Charlotte showed declines of 74% or more. Severe power outages, up to 100% of customers, affected Manatee, Collier, Lee, and Sarasota.

Cumulatively those counties contain nearly 17,000 people registered as using power-dependent medical devices. Power outages can be especially harmful for people who rely on power for their health, including people who rely on the use of ventilators or oxygen assistance.

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