Gulf of Mexico
Hurricane Ian’s toll revealed gaps in efforts to protect Florida's most vulnerable residents, an NBC News analysis found, based on death records, flood maps and interviews with survivors, victims' relatives and disaster preparedness experts.Anjali Nair / Nigel Chiwaya; Thomas Simonetti; NBC News

FL - Ian was one of the most lethal hurricanes in decades. Many of the deaths were preventable.

Hurricane Ian illustrated the challenges of protecting densely populated waterfront communities and exposed shortcomings in how local governments respond, an NBC News investigation found.

Hurricane Ian killed at least 148 people in Florida, most of them in coastal communities where the danger of storm surge is well documented but not widely understood. Scores drowned as they fled on foot, while in their cars or after seawater swallowed their homes. More than a dozen survived the flood itself but suffered life-threatening medical emergencies; by the time the storm finally allowed paramedics through, nine of them had died.

Ian was one of the deadliest hurricanes to hit the U.S. in the past 20 years.

Much of the catastrophic toll was foreseeable and preventable, an NBC News investigation found. The late September storm exposed shortcomings in how local governments communicate the risk posed by hurricanes, decide when to order evacuations and identify and help the most vulnerable residents.

Ian also illustrated the challenge of protecting densely populated waterfront communities from extreme weather worsened by climate change; thousands of coastal residents chose not to evacuate. Some said they didn’t have enough warning, while others were unaware of the danger or lacked the resources to leave.

The investigation was based on a review of hundreds of death records, an examination of flood maps and interviews with survivors, victims’ relatives, service providers, disaster preparedness experts and current and former public officials.

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The deaths from Ian are “very, very tragic,” said Tener Goodwin Veenema, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who lives in Florida.

“There’s a huge lesson for all of us in public health response and emergency management to learn from what we’ve seen here and ramp up our outreach efforts,” she said.

NBC News has identified 148 deaths related to Hurricane Ian in Florida, based on public records obtained from local and state authorities (see the full methodology below). An NBC News analysis found that 119 were attributed specifically to the flooding, winds and other dangerous conditions during the storm. They included 64 drownings, 19 deaths because of delayed medical care, nine falls and eight deaths due to oxygen machines’ failing because of power outages, as well as people who died from infections, car crashes and accidents.

NBC News determined the precise locations of 86 of the 119 deaths and found that two-thirds were in areas the federal government deemed at elevated risk of storm surge in a Category 4 hurricane. Half were in places at risk of 9-foot storm surges or more.

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