UPDATED: Oct. 1 at 10 A.M. ET
At least 23 people have been reported dead in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian this week as the state begins to assess the damage from the historic storm that hit the Carolinas on Friday.
The director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Kevin Guthrie, said during a press briefing Friday that 21 deaths have been reported since the storm made landfall in the Sunshine State as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday.
Guthrie said that only one death from the hurricane had been confirmed so far, in central Florida's Polk County, an area that sustained heavy rains and significant flooding. The state is still trying to verify if the 20 other reported deaths are attributable to the storm or another cause.
He said there were 12 unconfirmed fatalities in Charlotte County, where the hurricane made landfall on the southwest coast, and eight unconfirmed fatalities in Collier County. He added that the state is still processing searches in Lee County.
"People die in disasters that have nothing to do with the disaster," Guthrie said. "The medical examiner is the one that makes that determination. They are the lead agency at the local level to determine when they investigate that this is either disaster-related or not disaster-related."
In addition to the 21, Guthrie detailed another situation involving multiple fatalities in one house where the water level elevated above the roof. However, the state does not know how many human remains are in the house. He did not disclose where that house is located.
"We do have an identified situation that was done during the hasty search of some fatalities. We do not know exactly how many were in the house," he said. "Let me paint the picture for you. The water was up over the rooftop. We had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he identified that there appeared to be human remains. We don't know exactly how many."
Guthrie said the state can't fully assess that situation until the water level recedes and special equipment can be brought in.
Officials at the local level have also reported death counts.
According to NBC News, local law enforcement reports that one person drowned in Volusia County while trying to drain his pool. A sheriff's spokesperson said that two people died in Sarasota County. A city manager in Sanibel Island reported that two people died.
After a Thursday briefing with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, President Joe Biden indicated that the loss of life from the hurricane could be "substantial," stating that he had spoken with commissioners who are "worried."
The hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday before regaining strength as a hurricane as it struck South Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was reportedly moving northeast at 10 mph with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph as it headed for South Carolina.
After making landfall as a Category 1 hurricane in South Carolina, Ian again weakened to a post-tropical storm around 5 p.m. on Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Storm surge watches and warnings are still in effect for coastal regions of North Carolina.
"Ian's structure is similar to that of a powerful nor'easter, with most of the storm's rain and wind focused to the north and west of the center," AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said in a Friday email newsletter.
"But, make no mistake, Ian will hit with the force of a hurricane in the Carolinas, especially along the upper half of the South Carolina coast."
Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse, led by evangelist Franklin Graham, said it is working with local authorities and church partners to assess which areas are in the greatest need of assistance. The organization is closely tracking the storm and mobilizing disaster response specialists and tractor trailers with relief supplies to the affected areas.
"Hurricane Ian is going to impact the lives of millions of people," Graham said in a Thursday statement shared with The Christian Post. "We are praying for everyone in its path and already mobilizing our team to respond in Jesus' Name."