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News stories highlighting what happens in the days, weeks and months following hurricanes in Central Florida.

Hundreds rescued from flooded homes in Kissimmee and Orlando after Hurricane Ian

An airboat travels down U.S. 441 in Kissimmee during rescue efforts following Hurricane Ian Thursday morning. Photo: Osceola County Sheriff's Office
An airboat travels down U.S. 441 in Kissimmee during rescue efforts following Hurricane Ian Thursday morning. Photo: Osceola County Sheriff's Office

This article has been updated to include information available early Thursday afternoon and audio of an interview with Kissimmee Assistant City Manager Austin Blake.

Kissimmee is experiencing "catastrophic flooding" from Hurricane Ian, as heavy rains from the storm innundated streets and homes in Central Florida.

Rescues were underway Thursday morning, and Kissimmee City Manager Mike Steigerwald urged residents elsewhere in the city to stay off the streets, avoid downed power lines and let first-responders do their work.

He said residents in flooded homes or other buildings should call 911.

"Folks, we are in the midst of one of the most catastrophic flooding events in the history of the city of Kissimmee," Steigerwald said.

Photographs posted to Facebook by the Osceola County Sheriff's Office show airboat rescues on U.S. 441.

Steigerwald underscored that flood waters can conceal dangerous power lines.

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Credit: Osceola County[/caption]

"We do have areas," he said, "particularly in north Kissimmee, that are without power because of downed power lines. And that area is under -- in places -- several feet of water. So you will be unaware there is a power line in the water."

He said Kissimmee is receving outside assistance, including high-water rescue vehicles.

Osceola County emergency manager Bill Litton had a message for county residents Thursday morning: "We know you need help. We are mobilizing resources to get assistance to you."

Early Thursday afternoon, Kissimmee Assistant City Manager Austin Blake said that 127 people had been rescue or evacuated.  He said evacuees were brought to a pet-friendly shelter and provided with dry clothes, food and water. Seventeen were taken to a hospital with minor injuries. The city also requested a FEMA disaster assistance team to help provide long-term support.

Blake says Kissimmee has gotten still-water rescue help from the Osceola County Sheriff's Office and others. He says rescuers reported seeing two nine-foot alligators in the flood waters.

As for the areas affected, Blake says the Medical Arts District is flooded but most of the rescues have occurred in the northeast part of the city, including Orange Blossom Trail, Columbia Avenue and North Central Avenue.

He said the city believes it is, quote, "at the beginning of this" as flood waters from Orange County are flowing toward Osceola.

Flooding is 'biggest concern' in Orange County

Orange County was also experiencing flooding, and rescues were underway.

"Flooding, as we anticipated, has been and is our biggest concern in Orange County," Public Safety Director Danny Banks said Thursday morning.

He said Orange County firefighters have been working in more than a dozen neighborhoods to evacuate people.

Banks said that "literally last night in the middle of the storm, our Fire Rescue department started going into the neighborhoods responding to calls."

At a Thursday afternoon press conference, Orlando Fire Chief Charlie Salazar said city first-responders rescued or evacuated scores of people from two apartment or condominium complexes. Ninety-one were evacuated from the Maxwell Terrace  and 175 from Dockside at Ventura.

"We had one working fire at 205 E. Marks St.," Salazar said, "and that was extremely complicated because water was at waste level high." The department later said the water was knee-high.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said there is "unprecedented" flooding is all over the city but the extent of the damage won't be clear until the water subsides. He says the ground was already saturated before Ian arrived.

"The water has to go somewhere and unfortunately the places it would naturally go are also overrun, either flowing into one of the rivers running north or south," Dyer said.


Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.