Fort Myers, United States - Hurricane Ian unleashed “historic” devastation in Florida, leaving a yet unknown number of dead in its wake, officials said Thursday, as the storm regrouped in the Atlantic on a path toward the Carolinas.

The storm, one of the most powerful ever to hit the United States, left hundreds of people in need of rescue, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, while warning it was still too early to get a clear picture of how many people had died.

“We absolutely expect to have mortality from this hurricane,” he said at a press conference Thursday evening.

President Joe Biden, after a briefing at FEMA emergency management headquarters in Washington, said “this could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history.”

The numbers “are still unclear, but we’re hearing reports of what may be substantial loss of life,” he added.

DeSantis said concrete information about casualty numbers could be expected “in the coming days.”  Fort Myers, where Ian made landfall as a powerful Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday, took much of the brunt of the storm, as streets became rivers and sea water poured into houses.

Dozens of boats moored in the marina were sunk while others were tossed on to downtown streets.

Trees were toppled by the howling winds of up to 150 miles per hour (240 kilometers per hour). Earlier on Thursday, DeSantis described the destruction in the southwest part of the state as a “500-year flood event.”

“We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude,” he said. Tom Johnson, 54, of Fort Myers had a front row seat to the destruction from his apartment on the second floor of a two-story harbourside building.

“I was scared because I’ve never been through that,” Johnson told AFP. “It was just the most horrifying sounds with debris flying everywhere, doors flying off.” His home was undamaged but one of his neighbors, Janelle Thil, 42, was not so lucky and had to ask other residents for help after her ground floor apartment began to flood.

“They got my dogs and then I jumped out of the window and swam,” Thil said.