A boat carrying more than two dozen migrants has sunk off the coast of Florida, a United States government official said, as crews searched for 20 people that remain missing as Hurricane Ian slams the US state.
Walter Slosar, chief patrol agent at the US Border Patrol’s Miami Sector Headquarters, said on Wednesday that law enforcement agencies had launched a search-and-rescue mission after the vessel sank “due to inclement weather“.
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Slosar said four migrants swam ashore at Stock Island in the Florida Keys, but that crews – including the US Coast Guard – were looking for 23 others.
Later, the Coast Guard said three people had been rescued south of Boca Chica, another island in the Keys, amid the ongoing search. “They were brought to the local hospital for symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration. Air crews are still searching,” the agency said on Twitter.
News of the sunken vessel came just as Hurricane Ian was making landfall on Florida’s western coast on Wednesday afternoon as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm, bringing surging winds and heavy rainfall.
Earlier this week, Slosar had warned people against embarking on vessels bound for Florida amid a string of recent storms and hurricanes.
“Over the weekend, 50 migrants from #Cuba were taken into Border Patrol custody after making landfall during 3 events in the #FloridaKeys on makeshift vessels,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.
“The risks are even greater during a #Hurricane & potentially life-threatening to anyone onboard. #DontTakeToTheSea”.
#BREAKING: U.S. Border Patrol agents along with support from @mcsonews responded to a migrant landing in Stock Island #Florida. 4 Cuban migrants swam to shore after their vessel sank due to inclement weather. @USCGSoutheast initiated a #SAR operation to search for 23 individuals. pic.twitter.com/yUurGfSOSe
— Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar (@USBPChiefMIP) September 28, 2022
The National Hurricane Center has warned of “catastrophic” flooding and wind damage on Florida’s southwest coast due to Hurricane Ian.
Already, the Category 4 storm had brought blistering winds and heavy rainfall to several cities and towns in the area, and Florida state officials had urged residents to evacuate in advance of its rapid approach.
Cuba was slowly restoring power on Wednesday after the hurricane completely collapsed the island’s electricity grid.
Migrants from Haiti and Cuba as well as other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America have been regularly making the treacherous journey by sea to Florida’s shores.
Dozens of people have died as they attempted to reach the US by boat in recent months. In August, two migrants died and five went missing after their vessel capsized near the Florida Keys.
“The sea is unforgiving, and trying to leave Cuba to reach the US in an irregular and unsafe manner compounds the risks to yourself and others,” Lieutenant Commander Sean Newmeyer, of the US Coast Guard’s southeastern district, said in a statement after the incident last month.
The US Coast Guard has repatriated hundreds of migrants to Cuba this year.
Last month, the Coast Guard said it intercepted more than 3,900 Cubans trying to make it to the US by sea since last October.
The Cuban economy has been struggling under US sanctions and amid global inflation spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Immigration is emerging as a major issue in US politics ahead of the crucial midterm elections in November, with record numbers of asylum seekers and migrants crossing the US southern border this year.