At least 30 people have been killed after one of the most powerful storms ever to strike the US mainland wrought widespread destruction, with the number of dead expected to rise.
Hurricane Ian has caused tens of billions of pounds in damage and left around 1.7 million homes and businesses without power, leaving residents to liken the impact to “an A-bomb”.
In Florida, where the storm made landfall after battering western Cuba, coastal towns were turned into disaster areas and around 10,000 people remain unaccounted for although the authorities believe many are likely to be in shelters or without power.
Rescuers are continuing to search for survivors among the ruins of flooded homes.
Ian went on to hammer North and South Carolina with winds of 85mph, destroying piers and leading roads to be blocked by flooding and fallen trees.
Although now a post-tropical cyclone and weakening, it was still expected to bring treacherous conditions to parts of the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia on Saturday.
The National Hurricane Center said: “The dangerous storm surge, flash flooding and high wind threat continues.”
While the number of casualties and repair costs remain unclear, the scale of the damage was becoming apparent in Florida.
State governor Ron DeSantis said: “Those older homes that just aren’t as strong built, they got washed into the sea.
“If you are hunkering down in that, that is something that I think would be very difficult to be survivable.”
Meanwhile, insurers are braced for a hit of up to $47bn (£42bn), in what could be the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, according to US property data and analytics company CoreLogic.
US President Joe Biden has approved a disaster declaration, making federal resources available to areas impacted by the storm.
“We’re just beginning to see the scale of that destruction.
“It’s likely to rank among the worst… in the nation’s history,” he said.
Mr Biden also declared an emergency in North Carolina on Saturday.
Eyewitness: ‘I know we’re lucky to be alive’
The barrier islands off the coast of southwest Florida bore the brunt of Hurricane Ian’s fury.
Sanibel Island used to be a picture-perfect holiday spot with its wide, white sand beaches and clear waters.
The rich and famous have houses on the waterfront, alongside families who have lived there for generations.
On Wednesday afternoon, a torrent of water whipped up by the storm tore through the island – barely leaving a building untouched, ruining homes and taking lives.
Parts of the causeway, which is the only road access to the island, were washed away. Boat is now the only way on or off Sanibel.
The Sanibel fire service have borrowed a boat used for pleasure cruises and are using it to rescue people stranded on the island.
When they reach the jetty, a dozen survivors are waiting. They all have their own story to tell of Wednesday afternoon when Ian made landfall.
“The water started coming in and within five minutes the water was 3m (9ft) in the house and I was up on third floor,” says Marylou Holler, who has lived on Sanibel for seven years.
“I sheltered in a closet until part of the roof came off then the wind came in there so I just went behind a bed and stayed there. I know we’re lucky to be alive. I will never, ever, ever not evacuate again.”
Gregory Anerino clambers aboard the boat with three cat carriers.
“I’ve lived on Sanibel 35 years – seven hurricanes I’ve been through – and it’s never been like this,” he says.
“This is like an A-bomb hit this place. I was in Vietnam in 1968/69 and this is what it reminds me of. First it took off my roof, then it took off my upper staircase, and the only thing I have left now is my two bedrooms in the back and I had my cats in the bedrooms with me. That’s it, I have nothing else.”
As the boat pulls up to the port on the mainland, family members are waiting to see their rescued relatives. The mayor of Sanibel, Holly Smith, is there to greet them, crossing names off a sheet as they arrive.
“People are calling me all the time and people who are walking off this boat, their families are waiting for this news,” she says. “It’s not going to be a short-term recovery, it’s going to be a long-term recovery. This island is loved around the world and I know the strength of who we are and what we’re doing. We will rebuild.”
It’s been a short journey back to the mainland from Sanibel, but for many it represents the before and the after. They don’t know when, or if, they’ll ever return home.
The confirmed dead include 27 victims in Florida, mostly from drowning but also as a result of the storm’s aftermath.
An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said.
Other victims included a 68-year-old woman swept into the ocean by a wave and a 67-year-old man who fell into rising water inside his home while awaiting rescue.
A 71-year-old man suffered a fatal fall from a rooftop while putting up rain shutters.
The authorities have warned the number of dead is likely to rise much higher once more extensive searches were carried out.
Meanwhile, Cubans have staged protests in neighbourhoods of Havana still without electricity, days after Hurricane Ian knocked out power to the island, as well as flattening homes and ravaging agricultural fields.