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FEMA chief says rescuers covering "every square inch" after hurricane

FEMA administrator on Hurricane Ian response

Communities in Florida are experiencing life-threatening flooding, gusty winds and storm surge from one of the strongest storms to ever hit the nation. As Tropical Storm Ian is forecast to make its way up the East Coast in the coming days, officials are warning those in its path to remain vigilant. 

"The reports that we're getting so far this morning are that there are definitely catastrophic impacts," Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell told "CBS Mornings." "People that have been in the path of this storm are seeing devastating effects to them and their homes."

Ian made landfall in southwestern Florida on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. By Thursday morning, around 2.6 million homes and businesses in the area were without power due to the storm, according to the national database 

"This is going to leave a large path of destruction," Criswell said. 

Response teams, she said, are "very focused today" and anticipated power outages before the storm hit. She advised anyone trapped and who has access to a phone to call 911, but noted that if they cannot call, help is still on the way. 

"Know that we've got people out there," she said. "They're going to be looking for them. They know where to go. We are going to make sure we cover every square inch of area that's been impacted to make sure nobody needs assistance."

She warned those still in affected areas to heed caution when it comes to flooding and stormwater. 

"There is a lot of water in the area. It has debris. It has hazardous chemicals. There could be downed power lines. People need to take extra care," she said. "I would say what we see often is that we have an increase in the number of indirect fatalities after a storm because there's so many hazards that are out there."

This morning, President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for counties across Florida, making federal funding available to help residents recover. 

Criswell, who's set to brief the president on the storm Thursday, said FEMA has enough resources to move forward with recovery efforts at the time being but that it will "continue to work with Congress if there's additional needs."

"We have put together a large search and rescue capability," she said. "They've been out since 4:00  this morning looking at areas knowing that people may be trapped so we can get in and get as many people to safety as we can."

She said "saving lives" is the agency's "number one priority." 

Tori B. Powell

Tori B. Powell is a breaking news reporter at CBS News. Reach her at

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