Ron DeSantis called the damage “historic” and disaster officials believe thousands could be displaced in the long term.

US President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster, releasing federal funds to pay for measures such as temporary housing for displaced people.

Ian was a category four storm with winds up to 150mph when it struck southwest Florida on Wednesday, making it the joint fifth-strongest hurricane to hit America.

Lee County sheriff Carmine Marceno told US media that deaths could be “in the hundreds” and that he’d received thousands of 911 calls.

“It crushed us,” Sheriff Marceno said. “We still cannot access many of the people that are in need.”

But Florida’s governor said the remark was speculation based on the deluge of 911 calls and that he hoped many of those people would have stayed safe.