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After Hurricane Ian, ‘neighbors are helping neighbors’ in cut-off areas, says Coast Guard official

Rear Admiral McPherson said more than 100 pets have also been saved.

Hurricane Ian wreaked havoc on Florida. Currently, the death toll stands at 34, though that number is expected to climb, and 1.6 million people don't have electricity. Meanwhile, damage estimates are expected to climb into the billions.

On barrier islands off the state's coast, residents were stranded when parts of the bridges connecting the islands to the mainland were destroyed. For those trapped Floridians, the only option is to wait for rescue by boat.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson made a brief appearance on Saturday TODAY to tell hosts Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander how those rescues are going.

“Since this operation started for us just hours after the storm made landfall, we’ve been able to rescue about 325 people and more than 100 pets,” McPherson said. “The good news is that yesterday we saw fewer cases of people that were in urgent need of medical assistance, and really more folks that were just stranded.”

McPherson, who serves as the commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District, said one of the biggest challenges to rescue crews is finding people who are without power or cell phone service and have no way of calling for help. Air crews have been instrumental in helping coordinate rescues in those cases, he said.

"We had air crews in the air, looking for people that were needing assistance, waving them down from rooftops," he said.

Meanwhile, urban search and rescue teams have been on the ground and going door-to-door to check on people are in their homes.

"They're making that sort of ground assault, if you will," McPherson said, noting that those crews do have to be transported to and from Florida's mainland by boat.

McPherson said that despite the devastation, it has been inspiring to see neighbors helping each other out.

"You’ve got neighbors helping elderly neighbors, sharing their food, sharing their water, and I think it’s a really good sign for future recovery," he said.

The admiral said that as of now, all areas have been accessed at least once and that in the coming days, the rescue efforts will focus on making second and third rescue efforts in areas stricken by the storm.  

McPherson said that search efforts will continue until they are satisfied that anybody that needs rescuing is moved to a safe location.