Although official death numbers have not been released as of early Thursday afternoon, it appears Hurricane Ian caused a number of fatalities in Florida.
President Joe Biden said there were “early reports of what may be a substantial loss of life,” but no official numbers were immediately released. The president said the numbers were "still unclear."
Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm with top winds of 140 mph.
During a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Thursday, Biden said, "This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida's history.”
The last hurricane near the strength of Ian to strike Florida was Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018. Hurricane Michael caused 16 deaths, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Earlier in the day, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed two deaths, although he cautioned that it was unclear if the deaths were directly caused by the hurricane.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno initially told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he confirmed, "fatalities are in the hundreds" after Hurricane Ian struck. Later it was reported that Marceno could not confirm any casualties.
Marceno said that officials in hard-hit Lee County have been conducting thousands of rescues of people caught in flood waters.
Biden declared nine Florida counties as major federal disaster areas. Gov. DeSantis said he spoke with Biden and expected additional counties to be added.
Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday. Still, forecasts expected the storm to strengthen back into a hurricane as it heads up the U.S. east coast, expected to possibly make landfall in South Carolina on Friday.
Tampa International Airport will reopen for commercial flights on Friday, offering stranded travelers a chance to relocate and find adequate shelter if needed. The New York Times reported that the airport did not sustain major damage from Ian.
Biden said he plans to visit Florida in the coming days. No official date was immediately given.
The president also told reporters he intends to visit Puerto Rico following the landfall of Hurricane Fiona two weeks ago. Nearly one-in-five power customers in Puerto Rico remained without power, as of Thursday afternoon, according to officials.