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Florida officials put the preliminary death toll at 21, with only 1 confirmed

Tropical Weather Florida
Steve Helber/AP
Rescue personnel search a flooded trailer park after Hurricane Ian passed by the area Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Kevin Guthrie, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said that the single confirmed fatality happened in Polk County, which is in the central part of the state.

Officials in Florida have confirmed one fatality associated with Hurricane Ian and 20 other deaths that could potentially be a result of the storm.

At a press briefing on Friday morning, Kevin Guthrie, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said that the single confirmed fatality happened in Polk County, which is in the central part of the state.

Of the unconfirmed fatalities, eight were in Collier County and 12 were in Charlotte County. Guthrie said responders are still conducting search efforts in Lee County.

He also referenced a "situation" in which a coast guard rescue swimmer was able to swim into a house where water was "up over the rooftop" and found what appeared to be human remains. Guthrie said the exact number is unclear, and did not elaborate on where the house was located.

He declined to answer a question about how many people are missing, saying that information must come from local law enforcement. He did say that the state has sent surveys to more than 20,000 Floridians who sheltered in place, and that more than 10,000 have responded already to say that they are safe.

It's up to medical examiners at the local level to investigate deaths and determine whether they were directly related to elements of the hurricane — like storm surge and rising waters — or whether they happened in the lead-up or aftermath of the storm.

It's critically important for people to stay alert as they go about cleaning up, Guthrie warned. He stressed the importance of personal responsibility in several areas:

Generator safety: Portable generators should only be run outside and away from water. Guthrie says officials are getting reports of people operating generators inside garages, just outside of windows with cords running through them or dangerously close to puddles of water. He stressed the state is having carbon monoxide issues, though not necessarily deaths.

Chainsaws, ladders and wires: "If you don't know what it is, don't cut it," Guthrie said. "If you don't know how to cut it, don't cut it." He urged people to watch for downed wires when clearing up debris and rely on professionals for help.

Clearing debris: Guthrie said more information will come at a briefing later today, but that people who are starting to clean up their properties now must separate items into piles: vegetation, structural, household hazardous waste, electronics and appliances. People should wear boots, gloves and goggles while doing that. And if things are too heavy for you to move, get help, he added, pointing that responders and even faith-based and community volunteers will be willing to assist.

"These are absolutely avoidable deaths and absolutely avoidable injuries," he said.

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