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Hurricane Ian blamed for at least 23 deaths in Florida

Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.

At least 23 people in Florida have died from Hurricane Ian, state officials said Friday.

The true death toll from the powerful Category 4 storm that devastated parts of the state could be higher.

The number released by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission have been confirmed to be related to the storm after autopsies. Most of the 23 drowned.

Local officials have reported other deaths from the hurricane that have not, as of Friday evening, been confirmed by the state medical examiners’ commission.

According to an NBC News count of reports from officials, there have been 34 deaths in Florida

Of the confirmed storm-related deaths, 12 were in Lee County, where the hurricane made landfall with 150-mph winds around 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The people who died in Lee County ranged in age from 50 to 92, according to the state. One woman who drowned was found floating in seven feet of water, the medical examiners' commission said.  

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management Division, said Friday that first responders initially conducted a search to find obvious victims and people needing rescue, and then returned for more extensive searches.

More than 1.6 million electricity customers in Florida remained without power Friday, and utilities said some areas could see prolonged outages because of the devastation.

On Sanibel Island, south of where the hurricane made landfall, four people were killed, Sanibel City Manager Dana Souza said Friday. It was not clear if they were included in the state count.

The island was struck by a storm surge of between 8 and 15 feet, he said after touring the community earlier in the day.

“We were all humbled by the amount of devastation that we saw across the island,” Souza said.

Hurricane Ian is one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded to strike the United States. It then moved over the Atlantic Ocean and weakened, and on Friday hit South Carolina as a Category 1 storm.