Unconfirmed death toll estimates in Florida after Ian spread rapidly on Thursday as rescue and recovery operations had just begun and officials were assessing the devastating damage.
On Thursday morning, the sheriff of Lee County, Carmine Marceno, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that hundreds were presumed dead in his county after Ian.
The information was shared on social media, but his estimate was unconfirmed by state and local officials at that time.
“While I don’t have the confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds,” Marceno said.
He said, “There are thousands of people that are waiting to be rescued and, again, cannot give a true assessment until we’re actually on the scene, assessing each scene, and we can’t access people, that’s the problem.”
Death toll estimates immediately after a disaster are often unreliable. State officials said there are 21 reported deaths, but officials need to determine if their cause of death was due to the storm.
Their information relied on information from officials working with medical examiners to determine causes of death.
Dana Souza, city manager of Sanibel, said fire officials confirmed two deaths on the hard-hit barrier island. A local medical examiner's office referred questions on the deaths to the sheriff's office.
A 38-year-old man from Lake County reportedly died on Wednesday while in a vehicle accident when his vehicle hydroplaned. Medical examiners determined his death was related to the storm, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said.
A 72-year-old man from Deltona was confirmed death Thursday. Officials said he went outside to drain his pool and he fell into a canal and was later found dead.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said rescue efforts were focused, in part, around Sanibel Island. That area saw sections of a bridge leading to mainland Florida destroyed by a powerful storm surge.
When Sheriff Marceno spoke later on CNN, after his ABC appearance, he said, “I don’t know the exact numbers. It’s very preliminary,” he said
On that appearance, Marceno said the death toll stood at "roughly five" at that time.
Deanne Criswell of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was asked about the reports of "hundreds" of fatalities in an interview with MSNBC, and she said, “We have a few reports of some fatalities.”
Criswell said, “We know from the sheriff and from some of our other reports that they expect the number to go up.”
DeSantis said Thursday that the reports of "hundreds" of fatalities were too preliminary to confirm.
Officials had not released an official death toll from Lee County early Friday.