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National News

For the first time, Texas represented by Asian American women in Miss USA and Miss America pageants

Courtesy of Averie Bishop

(NEW YORK) -- For the first time in state history, Asian American women will represent Texas at two of the most prestigious pageants in the country.

Averie Bishop from Dallas, made history in June when she became the first Asian American woman to be crowned Miss Texas America. She will compete for the title of Miss America, the long-running national scholarship pageant, on Dec. 15 in Connecticut.

Just one week after Bishop’s win, R'Bonney Gabriel from Houston became the first Asian American woman to earn the Miss Texas USA title, marking another historic milestone. Gabriel is currently in Reno, Nevada competing in the Miss USA beauty pageant. If she wins the national title tonight, she will go on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant.

The Miss America and Miss USA competitions have long welcomed state titleholders to their stages. But for decades, women of color were banned from participating.

“I never saw anybody as Miss Texas who looked like me, so I was very scared to take up space in an organization that is historically meant for white women,” Bishop told ABC News.

Bishop’s mother immigrated from the Philippines in the 90s. Her father, who is white and Cherokee, is a fourth-generation Texan. For years, Bishop said her family lived in "extreme poverty," experiencing housing insecurity and relying on food assistance programs. She grew up attending a Title I school in Prosper, Texas.

“I was quite literally the only student that looks like the way that I did for almost, I'd say, a decade,” Bishop said. “I convinced myself that I wasn't allowed to speak my voice, that I wasn't allowed to dream or pursue the things I wanted to pursue.”

Gabriel, who is also Filipina, said she now feels a “big responsibility” to share her multicultural background and empower others to embrace their identities.

"My dad moved to America from the Philippines on a college scholarship with about $20 in his pocket. He wanted to pave a new life for himself. He met my mom in Texas, who is a country woman from Beaumont,” Gabriel told ABC News’ local affiliate in Houston. “I'm a very proud Filipina Texan."

Texas is the second most diverse state in the U.S., with minority groups together constituting more than 50 percent of the state population. But in recent years, Texas has also been at the epicenter of national political debates and culture wars over the state’s controversial abortion restrictions, book bans, gun laws, and crackdown on border immigration.

For Bishop and Gabriel, representing the ‘Lone Star State’ means using their platforms to speak out about the pressing issues affecting their communities, including anti-Asian hate, environmentalism, and women’s rights.

“I am very strong in my beliefs and what I believe are important to my generation,” Bishop said. “But as a statewide representative, as Miss Texas, I will, as my first initiative, listen to any perspective and all perspectives.”

Bishop’s Miss Texas platform is “Y'all Means All,” which emphasizes diversity and inclusion. Bishop and her mother manage a nonprofit called the Tulong Foundation that provides scholarships and mentorship to girls in Southeast Asia to help them pursue an education.

After going viral on TikTok, Bishop, a law school graduate, is also an online influencer running her own social media consulting business.

Gabriel, a model and designer, currently owns her own fashion label R’Bonney Nola, using sustainable practices and even designing her own looks for the pageants she enters.

She also works with the Houston nonprofit Magpies and Peacocks, teaching sewing to women in under-served communities as well as survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.

“I foresee myself in really dreaming about having a bigger brand that is focused on sustainability and being a leading voice in the industry that's helping the industry push to a more environmentally friendly practice," Gabriel said.

After competing in Miss America, Bishop said she is considering pursuing a career in academia, hoping to continue serving as a mentor and role model to students who look like her.

“Now that I have become the thing that I dreamed of becoming, other young girls, other women from the Filipino community, from the AAPI community can look at me, look at R’Bonney, and think to themselves, I can do it too,” Bishop said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Timeline: When did officials tell people to evacuate from Hurricane Ian?

Joe Raedle/Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) -- Before Hurricane Ian brought destruction to the Florida Peninsula on Sept. 28, federal and state officials urged Floridians to evacuate their homes and seek shelter because of dangerous winds and deadly storm surge.

Those warnings weren't for nothing, as about 99 people in Florida and four people in North Carolina died when Ian moved up the East Coast.

This is how the evacuations took place:

Sept. 27 – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an evacuation order for 12 counties, including Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Putnam and Sarasota, when Ian became a Category 3 hurricane, threatening coastal communities.

Those who didn't evacuate Hurricane Ian describe what it's like to ride out storm
Before DeSantis decided to place 2.5 million people under an evacuation order, county officials issued orders for residents to leave as the powerful storm approached.

County evacuations

Sept. 26/Sept. 27 – Florida's Charlotte County ordered residents in two zones to evacuate the area, including people who lived on Don Pedro Island, Knight Island, Little Gasparilla Island, Gasparilla Island and Manasota Key.

Additionally, people living in mobile homes and trailers, regardless of county, were told to leave the area.

Sept. 26 – Pinellas County issued its evacuation orders based on when Hurricane Ian was forecast to hit the Tampa Bay area.

Officials in Pasco, Hillsborough and Sarasota counties issued evacuation orders on Sept. 26 as Hurricane Ian still had Florida's southwest coast set in its sights.

Sept. 27 – Criticisms have been lobbied against Lee County officials for issuing a mandatory evacuation for residents less than 24 hours before Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm, a day after neighboring counties.

DeSantis defended Lee County's delayed evacuation order on Saturday in Fort Myers, telling reporters that county officials were following the data, which showed the storm hitting Tampa Bay before shifting south to Lee County.

"When we went to bed Monday night, people were saying this is a direct hit on Tampa Bay, worst-case scenario for the state," the governor said. "As that track started to shift south, and the computer models the next morning, they called for the evacuation, they opened their shelters and they responded very quickly to the data."

Parts of Lee County, including Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, suffered extensive damage because of the hurricane.

At least 94 people in Florida died in the storm, according to data from local officials. Lee County suffered the most casualties, with 54 deaths, the Lee County Sheriff's Office said Saturday.

Upward of 700 people were rescued in the county, according to Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno.

Sept 30 – Following its destructive trek across Florida, Hurricane Ian made its way to the Carolinas, prompting South Carolina officials to issue evacuation orders for residents before it made landfall on Sept. 30.

ABC News' Alexandra Svokos, Meredith Deliso and Mary Kekatos contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


More than 100 deaths reported after Hurricane Ian slams into Florida, North Carolina

Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- At least 99 people in Florida have died due to Hurricane Ian, according to local officials.

Four additional people were also reported dead due to the storm in North Carolina, the governor's office said Saturday.

The Category 4 storm slammed into Florida's southwest coast Wednesday afternoon, causing catastrophic damage, fierce winds and dangerous, record-breaking storm surges.

Deaths from Hurricane Ian reported in Florida

The deaths span multiple counties in Florida, including 54 in Lee County, 24 in Charlotte County, five in Volusia County, four in Collier County, three each in Sarasota and Manatee counties, two in Polk County, and one each in Hardee, Hillsborough, Lake and Hendry counties, ABC News has determined based on information from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission and inquiries with local officials and authorities.

The death toll from the catastrophic storm has been rising amid ongoing search and rescue missions.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said that upward of 700 people were rescued in the devastated county.

"It's what a heavy heart that I say that number," Marceno, whose county is home to hard-hit Fort Myers and the barrier island Sanibel, said in video posted to Facebook.

The causes of the deaths in Florida were primarily drownings, as well as two vehicle accidents and a roofing accident, officials said.

It is unclear whether the state's figure overlaps with ABC News' analysis. The state confirms deaths by reviewing medical examiner records, which can take some time.

Confirmed deaths from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement occurred in Lake, Sarasota, Manatee, Volusia and Collier counties between Sept. 27 and 30. The victims ranged in age from 22 to 91. One, a 68-year-old woman, drowned after being swept into the ocean by a wave on Sept. 29, the department said.

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office was among the first to publicly announce a fatality from Ian. A 72-year-old man in Deltona died after attempting to drain his pool during the storm, the office said Thursday.

The man, who was not publicly identified, "disappeared" after heading outside, the sheriff's office said. Deputies found him unresponsive in a canal behind the home and he was pronounced dead at a local hospital, the sheriff's office said.

Deaths from Hurricane Ian reported in North Carolina

The storm made landfall again on Friday in South Carolina, which has reported no deaths due to the storm so far, Gov. Henry McMaster said Saturday.

Though in neighboring North Carolina, four storm-related deaths have been reported, Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement Saturday. Three involved vehicle accidents on Friday, with the victims ranging in age from 22 to 25. Additionally, a 65-year-old man died Saturday from carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator in his closed garage while the power was out.

Hurricane damage across the southeast, as rescue efforts continue

Florida Rep. Kathy Castor, who represents the Tampa Bay area, called the situation a "major catastrophe."

"I'm afraid we're going to be dealing with a larger loss of life than we anticipated," she said on "ABC News Live" Thursday.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott told "Good Morning America" Thursday morning there were "thousands of rescue efforts going on right now."

"We've got great sheriff's departments, police departments, fire departments, state rescue teams. They're working hard. But there's a lot of people that need help right now," he said.

He expressed concern for the state's many low-lying areas.

"The water kills and I'm just -- I'm scared to death of, you know, what's happened here and I hope everybody stays safe," he said.

Sheriff Marceno told "Good Morning America" Thursday they had thousands of 911 calls they were answering.

"We still cannot access many of the people that are in need," Marceno said. "It's a real, real rough road ahead."

ABC News' Jay O'Brien, Ahmad Hemmingway, Benjamin Stein and Will Gretsky contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


After Hurricane Ian, neighbors rally to support local communities

The Washington Post / Contributor/ Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Five days since Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm, hundreds of families are trying to pick up the pieces as the recovery process continues.

In the close-knit community of Harlem Heights in Fort Myers, Florida, Ian decimated the area, leaving some homes and buildings submerged in several feet of water. Among them is the Gladiolus Food Pantry, which provides about 250 low-income families with food and household goods like diapers and toothpaste on a weekly basis.

After the hurricane, Gladiolus Food Pantry was flooded and the essential supplies inside the building were all destroyed.

“I mean, when the storm came, we lost power. We don't have any water. I mean, my food is spoiling in the refrigerator,” Keyondra Smith, a local resident, said.

Neighbors and community members have since teamed up to pitch in at Gladiolus, handing out food and water to anyone who needs them.

"People have worked their whole lives to get a tiny little sliver of something and it's gone," Jessica Woods said. "So that’s what hurts, I think, the most."

Woods called her friends following Ian's aftermath and they're now volunteering to support their community in this crucial time of need.

“When everybody has cleared this tent, that’s when we’ll be done," Woods said. "Our community is really hurting."

Floyd Simmons, who has lived in Harlem Heights for the past 44 years, says his home is a "disaster" but he's thankful for the volunteers in his community who are jumping in to help.

“It’s a beautiful thing," Simmons said. "That’s showing love.”

Gladiolus' director, Miriam Ortiz, said despite the storm's immense impact, the food pantry will continue to operate. The pantry is currently accepting donations of food, water and other staples like blankets, as well as welcoming volunteers who can lend a helping hand.

For individuals looking to help, food-based organizations such as Feeding Tampa Bay and World Central Kitchen are helping local communities impacted by Hurricane Ian. Other groups are offering support beyond food needs, such as debris cleanup, financial assistance and more. These organizations include CDP Atlantic Hurricane Season Recovery Fund, Florida Disaster Fund, Good360 and Team Rubicon.

Click HERE for more information on organizations helping people impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Florida teenager dead, two others injured after stealing, crashing Maserati: Police

avid_creative/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- A Florida teenager was killed and two others injured after they allegedly stole and crashed a Maserati early Sunday morning, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff deputies said their helicopter flight unit observed three suspects attempting to break into vehicles in a Pinellas County neighborhood before successfully breaking into the Maserati, which was unlocked and had its keys inside.

Law enforcement officials identified a male suspect, 15, who was allegedly driving the car, and two passengers, ages 15 and 16, as the suspects.

The three teens were heading eastbound at more than 80 mph without headlights when the driver lost control of the vehicle, went over the curb, hit a sign for a business and flipped over, Pinellas law enforcement said in a news release.

Officials said they did not pursue the stolen vehicle, following department policy.

One of the teens was pronounced dead at the scene, while the other two were both sent to the hospital with life-threatening and critical injuries, respectively, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a press conference Sunday.

"The driver of the car lost control of the car," Gualtieri said. "These are young kids; they're inexperienced drivers. No driver's licenses."

Gualtieri said one of the teens is not expected to survive his injuries.

The sheriff said the boys' parents believed the kids were asleep, saying they snuck out of their homes in the middle of the night.

"You can only imagine the angst [of] those parents, in the last 45 minutes, when we knocked on their door and told them that one of their sons is deceased and the other one is probably going to be deceased," Gualtieri said.

Authorities are investigating the incident.

Gualtieri said that his office plans to release footage of the incident on Tuesday.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Stockton police search for apparent serial killer tied to five murders, victims' IDs released

Oliver Helbig/Getty Images

(STOCKTON, Calif.) -- Five unprovoked murders in the past several months appear to be the work of one person, according to the Stockton, California, Police Department.

Authorities are searching for a person of interest tied to the five slayings, the first of which occurred on July 8. All of the victims were men and all were alone at the time they were fatally shot, police said. The killings all happened at night or in the early morning hours.

Police released only a few details about the string of murders and when they happened: a 35-year-old man fatally shot at 12:31 a.m. on July 8; a 43-year-old man fatally shot at 9:49 p.m. on Aug. 11; a 21-year-old man fatally shot at 6:41 a.m. on Aug. 30; a 52-year-old man fatally shot at 4:27 a.m. on Sept. 21; and a 54-year-old man fatally shot at 1:53 a.m. on Sept. 27.

Stockton police told ABC News that all of the victims were ambushed, none were robbed and none were drug- or gang-related. Police also told ABC News that they have physical evidence linking the five crime scenes together.

On Monday, San Joaquin County's Office of the Medical Examiner identified the victims. Paul Yaw, 35, was killed on July 8; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, died on Aug. 11; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, was killed on Aug. 30; Juan Cruz, 52, was the Sept. 21 victim; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, was slain on Sept. 27.

Lorenzo Lopez "was just a person who was out here at the wrong place at the wrong time at the wrong circumstance," his brother Jerry Lopez told ABC Sacramento affiliate KXTV. "It's hard to process that this has happened. I mean, me and my brother have been like twins. We were a year a part so we were pretty close."

Paul Yaw "was a good boy who grew into a good man with a big heart. He will always live on in our hearts. He was always there for you if you needed him," the family said in a statement provided to ABC News. "He was a son, brother, father, grandson, nephew and cousin. I still can't believe he's not coming back. I hope this helps to catch the person(s) responsible."

The city of Stockton said it was putting forward a $75,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the investigation. Stockton Crime Stoppers is posting an additional $10,000 reward.

The day after Lopez's killing, Stockton police had said at a press conference they were not sure if the string of killings were related.

"[We're] still looking at it from a random point of view, but we do see some similarities," Police Chief Stanley McFadden said Wednesday. "We have been provided absolutely zero evidence that leads us to believe that one individual is running rampant in the city of Stockton killing people."

But that changed two days later when the department tied the five killings together and released an image of a person of interest.

ABC News' Caroline Guthrie contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Colorado police shoot and kill robbery suspect near Denver airport

Kali9/Getty Images

(AURORA, Colo.) -- Aurora, Colorado police fatally shot a male robbery suspect they said threatened them with a gun following a vehicle chase that ended by Denver International Airport on Saturday, authorities said at a news conference.

Denver's chief of police, Ron Thomas, said two male suspects robbed a 7-Eleven store in Aurora around 2 a.m. Saturday morning before fleeing the scene in a small black SUV.

Around 5:00 a.m. Aurora police saw and began to pursue the vehicle toward Denver's airport, executing an immobilization technique that caused the SUV to crash, Thomas said.

"We understand that a police pursuit, high-speed pursuits are inherently dangerous," Thomas told reporters on Saturday. "And so, we want to end those as quickly as we possibly can when it's safe to do so. I think those officers believed that this remote location was a safe location in order to perform that maneuver."

Thomas said the suspect driving the car took out a long gun and threatened officers, prompting three Aurora cops to shoot the suspect.

Denver paramedics arrived and began to administer aid, but the suspect was pronounced dead on the scene. The second suspect was arrested.

An Aurora police officer did suffer injuries during the crash, a police official told ABC News. Although, no other officers were injured in the shooting.

Aurora and Denver's police are conducting a joint investigation into the incident.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Hurricane Ian live updates: Life-threatening surge predicted for Carolinas

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Ian has regained Category 1 strength with winds at 85 mph as it heads toward South Carolina.

The system had weakened to a tropical storm as it moved over central Florida on Thursday.

The storm made its first landfall on Florida's west coast on Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Oct 01, 3:06 PM EDT
North Carolina reports 4 deaths due to Ian


Four people have died in North Carolina since Friday in storm-related incidents, state officials said Saturday.

Two people died due to car accidents caused by storm conditions, one man drowned in his car and a fourth man died due to carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator.

Among those killed was a 25-year-old man who lost control of his vehicle and hydroplaned into another vehicle, a 24-year-old woman whose vehicle went off a wet road and struck a tree and a 22-year-old man who drowned when his truck left the roadway and submerged in a flooded swamp.

A 65-year-old man died Saturday from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator running in his closed garage while the power was out. His wife was hospitalized.

“The storm has passed, but many hazards remain with downed trees, downed power lines and power outages,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in a press release. “We mourn with the families of those who have died and urge everyone to be cautious while cleaning up to avoid more deaths or injuries.”


Oct 01, 1:49 PM EDT
1.2 million without power in Florida

Over 1.2 million customers remain without power in Florida on Saturday, days after Hurricane Ian tore through the state.

Another 201,000 customers are without power in North Carolina and more than 58,000 are in the dark in Virginia as Ian moves north.

Oct 01, 1:44 PM EDT
Rain pushes north

A flood watch remains in effect in parts of Virginia and West Virginia on Saturday as Ian’s remnants push north.

The storm is significantly weakened, but winds may still top 35 mph as rain covers the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast this weekend.

-ABC News’ Daniel Amarante

Oct 01, 1:06 PM EDT
No fatalities reported in South Carolina

Ian, the first hurricane to make landfall in South Carolina since Matthew in 2016, has not caused any deaths in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said Saturday.

“Another good story for South Carolina, and we’re open for business,” he said at a news conference.

Ian barreled through South Carolina on Friday. The hardest-hit areas were along the coast from Charleston to Horry County, said Kim Stenson, director of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. Charleston saw 6 to 8 inches of rain.

Oct 01, 11:26 AM EDT
Florida death toll climbs

Florida’s death toll from Hurricane Ian has climbed to at least 52, according to information from local officials.

Lee County, which encompasses Fort Myers, accounts for the majority of the fatalities, with at least 35 lives lost in the county, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

Other fatalities were reported in Charlotte, Sarasota, Volusia, Lake, Collier and Manatee counties.

Despite the "complete devastation" in Lee County, Sheriff Carmine Marceno said Saturday that "there's light at the end of the tunnel. ... We are going to be stronger than ever."

"We are one big family together. That's what makes us great. And sometimes these horrific events bring us all together for us to move forward," Marceno said.

-ABC News’ Matt Foster

Oct 01, 7:26 AM EDT
Remnants of Ian head to mid-Atlantic, Northeast

The remnants of Hurricane Ian, once a Category 4 hurricane that made multiple U.S. landfalls, are pushing up the mid-Atlantic and bringing widespread rain from Virginia to Connecticut.

Ian is now considered a post-tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

Flood watches are in effect in Virginia and West Virginia, where up to 6 inches of rain is expected through Saturday afternoon. A wind advisory is also in effect; gusts could reach 50 mph at higher elevations.

The rain will then continue to move north. Some of the Northeast coast, especially Delaware and Long Island, could see up to 6 inches of rain over the next 48 hours.

-ABC News’ Kenton Gewecke

Oct 01, 5:18 AM EDT
Biden approves North Carolina emergency declaration

President Biden has declared that an emergency exists in North Carolina and ordered federal assistance to help with the state's response in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

"The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population," the White House said in a statement released early Saturday.

FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize and provide equipment and resources to help the recovery efforts on the ground.

"Deanne Criswell, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named John F. Boyle as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas," said the White House."

Ian’s winds have come down to 50 mph as the storm continues to move north as a post-tropical cyclone.

Ian will continue to weaken as it moves north, and will bring heavy rainfall in short periods of time through the morning hours, prompting flood watches to be issued from North Carolina to West Virginia.

Sep 30, 9:28 PM EDT
‘It’s a different Sanibel,’ mayor says

Sanibel, Florida Mayor Holly Smith said that her city will not be the same following Hurricane Ian's catastrophic impact.

Smith said she was on the island for four hours Friday and witnessed the devastation firsthand.

"Unless you're on the ground, you really can't take in the gravity of what we experienced. It's a different Sanibel," Smith told ABC News Live Prime.

Smith said that she was checking in on 300 residents and that it was very important to make contact.

"As far as we know at this point, the number of fatalities recorded are four,'' Smith said.

"This is going to be a very long recovery process," Smith added of the efforts to get everybody off the island and to safety. "It's not habitable."

Sep 30, 7:42 PM EDT
Desolation, and relief, in Key West

Key West did not escape hardship, but in Ian's wake, many Key West residents have expressed relief that the coastal city hadn't endured far worse.

The path of the then-Category 4 hurricane veered west of Key West, sparing it the strongest of the storm's impact. Flooding was reported in nearly 100 apartments. Though the city suffered no casualties or uptick in emergency room visits, Alyson Crean, a public officer with the Key West Fire Department, told ABC News. The city largely returned to normal on Friday, as businesses and schools reopened.

The mix of desolation and relief in Key West embodies the range of fates across Florida, where some communities escaped largely unscathed while others saw tragedy.

"We were relieved when we saw that the storm was turning a different way," Jennifer McComb, the chief executive at the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys, told ABC News. "For a while, it looked like it could've been a direct hit."

-ABC News' Max Zahn

Sep 30, 7:26 PM EDT
A search for a survivor told on social media


As Hurricane Ian was bearing down on southwestern Florida Wednesday, Beth Booker received photos and videos showing Ian's storm surge starting to fill her mother's Fort Myers home.

Then, shortly after the storm made landfall in Florida, the updates stopped.


Sanibel Island, Lee County facing impacts from Hurricane Ian

JOSEPH AGCAOILI/AFP via Getty Images

(FORT MYERS, Fla.) -- Across Florida, at least 52 people died in the storm, according to information compiled from local officials. Of those, about 35 were in Lee County, the Lee County Sheriff's Office said Saturday.

At least two people died on Sanibel Island, with Mayor Holly Smith telling "ABC News Live Prime" Friday night there were four recorded fatalities.

"This is going to be a very long recovery process," Smith said. "But right now, [the plan is] getting everybody off that island and to safety. It is not habitable."

A video posted by Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno Thursday afternoon showed continued flooding across Lee County as well as destruction to roads, including bridges that appear partially sunken.

"Florida Guard has about 5,000 soldiers and airmen on duty throughout the state, primarily focused right now on Lee and Charlotte Counties," Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Daniel R. Hokanson told "GMA3" Friday.

The extent of the damage is not yet known as towns wait for the storm to fully pass and for floodwaters to recede and search and rescue operations continue.

Destruction in Sanibel Island and other barrier islands

The barrier islands in the county were largely decimated, according to Lee County's Department of Public Safety. An ABC News team on the ground with international rescue group Project Dynamo on Friday called Sanibel "unrecognizable."

"We jumped right onto the beach near, around the middle of the island. Everything we saw was either destroyed or sustained damage," said the ABC News team, which includes Rachel DeLima, Timmy Truong and Victor Oquendo.

Sanibel, a barrier island outside Fort Myers that's home to fewer than 7,000 residents, faced the brunt of the storm as it made landfall Wednesday afternoon.

The Sanibel Causeway, which connects the island to the mainland, and the Matlacha Pass Bridge, which connects nearby Pine Island to the mainland in Cape Coral, were destroyed and will both need rebuilds, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday.

With the bridges destroyed, getting people off the island is a top priority, Mayor Smith, who was on Sanibel on Friday via boat, told ABC News. First responders have been working on search and rescue operations, including going through a list of 300 residents to check in on, Smith said.

That process is difficult because it's possible individuals are leaving the island by other means, the mayor said, and there are "several areas that still our assets haven't been able to get to and get through."

"Right now, it's going to be all helicopter operations to get distribution, food supplies, medical aid, [and] people in and out of there," Hokanson of the National Guard said Friday.

Devastation across Lee County, including inland

Lee County Public Safety officials said this was the most damage they had ever seen from a storm, including the most damage they have seen at Fort Myers Beach. Beaches in the area were destroyed and images show destruction caused by the forceful movement of boats and floating vehicles in flooding.

There was obvious destruction throughout Fort Myers from the hurricane. DeSantis said Friday that newer construction was better able to withstand the storm.

"But I'll tell you those older homes that just aren't as strong built, they got washed into the sea, some of them," the governor said Friday afternoon. "If you were hunkering down in that, that's something that I think would be very difficult to be survivable. So, they're still trying to figure out who was home and who wasn't."

Lee County officials have asked for support for a water main break at the facility, DeSantis said Friday. The county did not have water as of Friday and FEMA and the Army Corp of engineers were working to get the water back up and running.

President Joe Biden said Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell spoke with Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass on Thursday to discuss ways the administration can support the county in the aftermath of Ian.

The Biden administration said it would assist with search and rescue efforts, power restoration, helping to address challenges faced by local hospitals and problems presented by damage to roads and bridges, according to a statement from the White House.

Lee and Charlotte Counties were 85% without power as of Friday morning, DeSantis said.

Rescues and fatalities

City of Sanibel officials said Thursday evening they have confirmed at least two fatalities, while Smith said Friday there could be four.

More than 500 individuals were rescued in Lee and Charlotte Counties, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, and search and rescue operations are continuing. There were 600-700 rescues in the county as of Saturday morning, the sheriff's office said.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue have been involved in search and rescue efforts, including in Sanibel and Captiva. Many rescues were made in waist-high water, public safety officials said Thursday.

Marceno said Wednesday night it was clear the area had been hit very hard and there were reports of buildings being compromised. A curfew was enacted at 6 p.m. but officials were unable to enforce it.

Storm surge was a major concern with this hurricane due to the movement and conditions in the area. It is likely that some areas in southwest Florida had storm surge higher than 12 feet.

Where Hurricane Ian went next

Hurricane Ian initially made landfall in Florida on Wednesday afternoon near Cayo Costa. At that point, it was a Category 4 storm, with winds around 150 mph.

Landfall occurred about 20 miles west northwest of Fort Myers and 20 miles west southwest of Punta Gorda, which was struck by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

The storm then moved east and north before making another landfall, this time in South Carolina on Friday afternoon.

ABC News' Alexandra Faul, Justin Gomez and Victoria Arancio contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


With anti-LGBTQ laws proliferating, older activists say history is repeating itself

Westend61/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Despite major progress in recent years in the fight for LGBTQ equality, older LGBTQ activists say the country is seeing increased political pushback against the LGBTQ communities, reminiscent of past anti-LGBTQ movements they lived through during the 20th century.

History repeating itself, is something of which they say everyone should be aware.

When Ellen Ensig-Brodsky, 89, first began embracing her identity as a lesbian, she said meeting other women was done in secret.

"It was secretive, you were considered sick and nasty and terrible -- you were a sick criminal to be gay," said Ensig-Brodsky.

She said the landscape for the LGBTQ community has changed completely.

"During this period that I'm talking about, after the '80s, the '90s, there was an enormous amount of openness in the LGBT field that we never had before," she said. "I feel confident that the LGBT world is now very solidified and strong,"

Alston Green, 71, says he's tired of fighting efforts to turn back the clock on progress after so many decades of steps toward equality for queer people.

"It's fearmongering, which I think is really very dangerous," said Green. "They want to take us back ... I have to say -- confidently -- I don't think people are gonna go for it."

Pushback against LGBTQ identities

Anti-LGBTQ attacks have grown across the country.

Last weekend, a LGBTQ community center in Gainesville, Florida, claimed on social media that it was vandalized when a perpetrator allegedly threw a rock through the front door and window, accompanied by a hateful note.

Anti-LGBTQ history repeating, activists say

Such violence follows the introduction of legislation in recent years restricting LGBTQ rights, including LGBTQ-related content bans in some schools, gender-affirming care bans for trans youth and more.

"We're definitely seeing history repeating itself in frustrating ways because we've been through it before so many times," said Andrew Shaffer, the director of development and communications at the GLBT Historical Society.

He continued, "The rhetoric that people are using now is almost copy and pasted from 20 or 40 years ago. You've seen attempts to erase from existence or to erase from the visible landscape [the LGBTQ community] going on for well over a century."

For instance, in the 1970s, then-popular singer Anita Bryant created the "Save Our Children" movement in opposition of a local ordinance in Florida that protected LGBTQ people from discrimination.

"In the 70s, that's really when I would say the LGBT community was really getting its foothold in society," said Green. "It was clear that people like Anita Bryant, they got very upset because gay rights are being passed, less job discrimination and all these things [were changing] for gay people."

In the 1990s, some who have studied LGBTQ history who spoke with ABC News, said so-called "no promo homo" laws barred educators from discussing LGBTQ topics in schools.

Presently, legislators in support of anti-LGBTQ legislation often claim their efforts are to protect children and ensure parents' rights.

"We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said before signing the Parental Rights in Education bill in March that bans LGBTQ content in some classrooms.

In Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin reversed protections for transgender students, the governor's spokesperson told NBC News that the updated policy "delivers on the governor's commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students."

In a statement to ABC News, Deputy Communications Director for Gov. Youngkin, Rob Damschen, said critiques of the policy changes are "disingenuous" and that schools will ensure that trans students are treated with "respect, compassion and dignity."

DeSantis' office did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Shaffer, a historian, said this kind of rhetoric has been used to mask anti-LGBTQ efforts.

"They've always couched in the language of protection or, you know, 'we're trying to preserve some things,' some intangible heritage," said Shaffer.

'The kids are alright:' hope for the future

Students have been active in the fight against anti-LGBTQ efforts nationwide.

Green says it's a sign that the LGBTQ community isn't going to live in fear, and has the support it needs to continue on toward progress.

On Tuesday, students in Virginia walked out of school in protest of Youngkin's proposed changes to the state's guidance that would roll back protections for transgender people against discrimination.

This effort follows other student-led movements across the country, which include other protests in support of the LGBTQ community, including efforts to supply banned books to students where LGBTQ or racially diverse narratives have been removed from shelves.

"I am hopeful not only for the present, but for the future," said Shaffer. "The kids are alright, as they say."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sailor found not guilty in fire that destroyed $1.2 billion USS Bonhomme Richard

Specialist 1st Class Patrick W. Menah Jr/U.S. Navy

(SAN DIEGO) -- A sailor accused of setting a $1.2 billion Navy amphibious assault ship ablaze in San Diego was found not guilty by a military judge Friday.

Ryan Sawyer Mays was charged with aggravated arson and willfully hazarding a vessel after a four-day inferno in July 2020 relegated the costly USS Bonhomme Richard to a scrap yard in Texas.

Mays maintained his innocence from the beginning.

"Thankfully the military judge today reaffirmed that innocence," said Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torees, Mays' lead defense attorney.

After his not guilty verdict Friday, the 21-year-old told reporters gathered outside the courthouse he is eager move on with his life.

"I've lost friends, I've lost time with family, and my entire Navy career was ruined. I am looking forward to starting over," Mays said..

Prosecutors presented no physical evidence against Mays, instead relying on a witness whose account changed over time and an allegation that Mays was disgruntled from failing to make it into the Navy SEALs, according to Mays' former attorney Gary Barthel, who attended the trial in person.

Barthel said Mays was "absolutely not" embittered against the Navy after he quit five days into Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) selection in 2019.

"His dream has always been to make the Navy a career," Barthel told ABC News in August 2021.

But speaking to ABC News on Friday after his former client's winning verdict, Barthel said a future in the Navy is unlikely for the young sailor.

"Here he has an employer that just accused him of committing a crime, threw him in the brig for two months, and now he's just been found not guilty. How would you feel? Would you want to stay with that employer? Probably not. So it's probably best for the Navy and Mays to part ways," Barthel said.

While prosecutors put blame on Mays after the catastrophic fire, the Navy acknowledged a series of leadership and safety failures that exacerbated the fire, punishing more than 20 individuals as a result.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Search underway after vessel carrying dozens of migrants sinks amid Hurricane Ian

USCG Southeast

(NEW YORK) -- Two people have been found dead in the search for over a dozen missing migrants after their vessel sank off the coast of Florida as Hurricane Ian was moving through the region, authorities said.

U.S. Border Patrol agents responded Wednesday to a migrant landing in Stock Island in the Florida Keys, Chief Patrol Agent Walter Slosar said on Twitter.

Four Cuban migrants had swam to shore after their vessel sank "due to inclement weather," Slosar said.

The U.S. Coast Guard began a search and rescue mission for an additional 23 people, Slosar said.

Crews have so far rescued five people and recovered the bodies of two, authorities said.

Three were rescued Wednesday in the water about 2 miles south of Boca Chica, the U.S. Coast Guard Southeast said.

"They were brought to the local hospital for symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration. Air crews are still searching," the Coast Guard said in an update on Twitter.

Two people were recovered deceased, the U.S. Coast Guard said, as the search for the remaining 16 missing migrants resumed Saturday.

The rescue efforts started amid dangerous weather conditions from Hurricane Ian. The storm made landfall on Florida's west coast Wednesday afternoon as a major Category 4 hurricane, bringing with it powerful winds and life-threatening storm surge.

The hurricane's landfall was at about 3:05 p.m. ET near Cayo Costa, an island off the coast of Fort Myers.

The storm brought heavy rains and catastrophic storm surge as it moved through Florida. Dozens have been reported dead in the state due to Ian.

The rescue mission comes after seven migrants from Cuba were taken into custody after making landfall at Pompano Beach, north of Fort Lauderdale, on Tuesday, according to Slosar.

"Do not risk your life by attempting this journey at sea," he said on Twitter. "Storm surge along with King tide can create treacherous sea conditions even after a storm passes."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


In Hurricane Ian's aftermath, the new head of FEMA faces a historic challenge

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Deanne Criswell was in Florida Friday with Gov. Ron DeSantis, assessing the historic damage from Hurricane Ian and facing her biggest challenge yet as the new head of FEMA -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Not only is she the first woman to hold that critical job -- the face of FEMA when desperate Americans are demanding help that can never get to them fast enough -- the agency, before her time, has been roundly criticized for not delivering on its core mission.

Will Criswell make a difference when FEMA is needed most? Have lessons been learned so it can respond better now?

On Thursday, she voiced confidence when she joined President Joe Biden at FEMA headquarters in Washington to give an update on Ian's path of destruction, saying her "heart aches" for those whose lives have been devastated.

"As many have said, Hurricane Ian is going to be a storm that we talk about for decades. But from the moment Hurricane Ian became a threat, we already had the right teams in place, who were ready to answer the call of those that need us most," Criswell said, in a no-nonsense style.

Biden referred to Criswell as the "MVP here these days" and observers have told ABC News that Criswell's background makes her uniquely qualified for the high-stakes job.

Criswell served in the Colorado Air National Guard for more than two decades, started her emergency management career in Aurora, Colorado and was most recently the commissioner of the New York City Emergency Management Department before being appointed by Biden to head FEMA.

"She is someone who actually has responded to threats. She has experience in the field, she knows what it's like to be on the frontlines," said Daniel Aldrich, the director of the Security and Resilience Studies Program at Northeastern University.

But Criswell trails a long list of political appointees who have occupied the high-stakes federal operations post, notorious for its historically difficult nature and outsized prominence during the worst days of calamity around the nation.

Memories are still fresh of the fire and ridicule aimed at Michael Brown, FEMA administrator under George W. Bush, for how critics say he mishandled the Hurricane Katrina response, despite Bush famously telling him, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

FEMA's past problems

The agency has become nearly synonymous with the federal government's response to all manner of disasters -- floods, fires, pandemics and more. The scale of its work encompasses billions in funding and direct aid, millions of units of food and water and enormous swaths of temporary housing, among other forms of relief.

"Being there to help clear roads, rebuild main streets and so that families can get back to their lives: That's what FEMA does every single day," President Biden said last year as he announced $1 billion for a FEMA preparedness project amid extreme weather fueled by climate change.

"As my mother would say, 'They're doing God's work,'" Biden said.

But that work has not been without intense controversy -- including with Katrina in 2005, an episode epitomized, to critics, when the agency provided temporary trailers as housing which also included high levels of the carcinogenic formaldehyde. That same issue was later documented in some FEMA trailers provided to victims of wildfires in California in 2007.

Major problems have continued since, though the agency has continued to say it strives to best serve those in need.

FEMA has also been strapped, at various points over the years, both by funding problems and what appears to be an accelerating cycle of weather calamities for which it is called upon to respond.

"They need more people and resources," Eric Holdeman, the director of the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience for the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, told ABC News. "The frequency of disasters, think about wildland fires that we've had, the heat emergencies that have been happening, tornadoes -- all of those end up as they become presidentially declared, FEMA's involved."

In 2020, the president of the union for FEMA employees acknowledged, "The only thing we can liken this to is 2017, which was one of our busiest years in decades. This is far eclipsing 2017."

That same year, however, a watchdog found that FEMA had misplaced $250 million in food and supplies for Puerto Rico after it was hit by two hurricanes, Irma and Maria.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found that FEMA "lost visibility" or failed to fully track nearly 40% of shipments to Puerto Rico with a value of nearly $257 million in meals, water, blankets and other supplies. Of the nearly 10,000 shipping containers sent to Puerto Rico, 19 were never recovered.

Aldrich said a major problem for FEMA after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a lack of pre-positioning resources.

"FEMA did not take advantage of weather forecasting and simulation models to place things like food, water, bulldozers, evacuation shelters, in communities near or on vulnerable sites about being hit by a shock like a hurricane," he said.

Perhaps recognizing the agency's past failures to prepare for extreme weather events, Criswell and Biden have gone to great lengths to highlight the agency's prepositioning ahead of Hurricane Ian.

Speaking at the White House press briefing on Sept. 27, the day before Ian made landfall in Florida, Criswell said they'd already staged hundreds of thousands of gallons of food, millions of liters of water and millions of meals, as well as personnel.

"The preparation for this storm has been extensive and it has been coordinated," she said. "It has been a coordinated effort between FEMA, our federal, our state, and our nonprofit partners."

But just as recently as this summer, in aiding Kentucky after flooding there, FEMA was repeatedly criticized by the state's governor, Andy Beshear, for what he said was a stupefying inability to process aid claims.

"Too many people are being denied," Beshear told reporters in August. "Not enough people are being approved. And this is the time that FEMA's got to get it right. To change what has been a history of denying too many people and not providing enough dollars and to get it right here."

In response, a FEMA spokesman said, in part, according to the Associated Press: "We know these are incredibly difficult times, and we want to help you. We will continue to work to ensure that every eligible applicant receives every dollar of assistance legally possible."

The spokesman said then -- echoing a promise made by FEMA officials through the years of disaster upon disaster in the U.S. -- that responders would remain in Kentucky "as long as it takes."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


'Start Here' takes a look at changes to student loan forgiveness plan

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- On Thursday, the Department of Education scaled back President Joe Biden's federal student loan cancellation program to protect against legal challenges by six states, with new guidelines that excluded at least hundreds of thousands of borrowers initially told they qualified for the program.

The move excludes people who took out federal loans that, while they were guaranteed by the government, were technically handled by private banks.

ABC News' Senior National Policy Reporter Anne Flaherty spoke with "Start Here" Friday about the surprise move, what prompted it and how it will affect Americans with student loan debt.

START HERE: Anne, is it possible that the government pulls like a take-backsy? What is going on here?

ANNE FLAHERTY: You were asking if the president can do this and he can -- up until a point where a judge tells him he can't. So this is pretty much the story of every presidency. Two things we need to know. One, what he did was absolutely unprecedented. The student loan program has been ramping up since the Lyndon B. Johnson days. Basically, no president ever has looked at students and said, "Wait no, never mind. Let's just go ahead and not have you pay back this money. In a sense, a judge could look at this and say, "Hey wait, what are you doing?"

The other thing is he's relying on a lot of what was enacted after 9/11. This was a law that said the president can reduce or erase student loan debt during a national emergency. But he's also the same president who went on national television recently and said the pandemic is over. That's the Republican argument on this.

I don't think it's a coincidence that on the same day Republicans filed this lawsuit we also have the Education Department pull back on aspects of this plan. I think this is legal maneuvering to try and make this stick [and] try to make this work, because we've got an election coming up [and] he wants to keep this.

START HERE: So let's talk about these lawsuits first. I was asking everyone "Can Biden do this?" and everyone said, "Yeah, the Education Department has broad authority." Who is exactly filing the lawsuits and what are they challenging?

FLAHERTY: We've got six states that have filed their case in a federal court in St. Louis. All red states, all conservative, say, "Look, the president is saying the pandemic is over. What's the emergency here? You can't erase these loans." At the same time when you read this complaint in court, it reads like a political statement. It talks about the economy [and] how miserable it is. Why is the president giving a giant stimulus check only to people who went to college?

They say it's patently unfair. The White House is pushing back. They say we're going to fight this. They gave me a statement that said Republicans are working against the interests of middle-class and working-class families. So the next move is by the court.

START HERE: At this moment Anne, who is about to get their loans forgiven and who might not?

FLAHERTY: So everybody was supposed to get loan forgiveness up to a certain point. What's changed here is that we're talking about these federally backed loans that were guaranteed by the federal government but handled by private banks. So Republicans were saying people can be hurt by this move. It's the student loan servicers, servicers that are going to be put at a disadvantage.

START HERE: Private businesses essentially.

FLAHERTY: Right. And so the Education Department quietly changes the language on its website. Before they had said, well, if you can consolidate all these loans that are handled by private banks into these federal direct loans -- is what they call them -- that will qualify for relief. So then they change the website to say, if you have consolidated these loans by Sept. 29 into federal direct loans, then they will qualify.

START HERE: Wait, that was yesterday. They said, like, if you've done it by yesterday?

FLAHERTY: Yes, exactly. So it's a little bit of a wait, what? People are going to be waking up to that and saying, if you have those types of loans. So, you know, overall, the loan relief program is still there. A judge has not blocked it. People should keep moving forward, asking the government for relief on this. They should not stop. We don't know where this is going next. So TBD.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New York AG seeking to expedite fraud suit against Trump and company

Win McNamee/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- New York Attorney General Letitia James wants to accelerate her $250 million fraud lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, his children, his company, and two of its executives.

James, in a letter to the state's chief administrative judge, signaled her intention to push for a trial before 2024 and asked him to keep the civil case before Judge Arthur Engoron, who had presided over disputes between the attorney general and the Trump legal team during the investigation.

The Office of the Attorney General "intends to seek an expedited preliminary conference to set a trial date before the end of 2023," James' letter said. "Allowing for an expedited trial schedule on an enforcement proceeding after extensive litigation over subpoena enforcement is precisely the circumstance that warrants keeping this case before Justice Engoron in the interests of judicial economy."

Trump had asked for the case to be assigned to someone other than Engoron, who earlier held him in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena during the probe.

Trump's attorney, Alina Habba, accused the attorney general's office of trying to keep the case before a friendly judge.

"OAG's actions appear to be nothing less than a deliberate attempt to circumvent the rules of the Individual Assignment System and to 'judge shop,'" Habba said in a letter asking for the case to be reassigned to the Commercial Division of New York State Supreme Court. The AG, in contrast, argues that Engoron is already familiar with the material so for expediency's sake the case should stay with him.

James has accused Trump of "staggering" fraud and alleges that the former president, with the help of his three eldest children and two corporate executives, "grossly inflated" his net worth by billions of dollars.

The lawsuit accuses them of preparing hundreds of fraudulent and misleading financial statements that overstated the values of nearly every major property in the Trump portfolio, thereby convincing banks and insurers to giving Trump better terms than he otherwise would have received.

All of the defendants have denied wrongdoing.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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