Hurricane Ian Evacuee, 11, Dies in Fall From Balcony After Family Fled Storm's Path

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An 11-year-old boy whose family evacuated from Jacksonville in anticipation of Hurricane Ian’s arrival in Florida is dead after he fell from a condominium balcony in Panama City Beach.

On Friday, Panama City Beach communications director Debbie Ingram confirmed with PEOPLE that police received a call at 1:19 p.m. Eastern time Thursday “about a possible child falling off a balcony” at Sterling Reef Condominiums along the Gulf of Mexico.

Police, firefighters and other emergency responders found the child dead upon their arrival at the scene, Ingram told PEOPLE on Friday.

“His family was staying there at the hotel, at the condos,” Ingram told PEOPLE. “They had evacuated, I’m not sure exactly what day, but they had evacuated from the Jacksonville area.”

Ingram said that witnesses told city officials the child appeared to fall from the 19th floor, which WBTV also reported. It is unknown how the child came to fall over the balcony, Ingram told PEOPLE.

“What’s so heartbreaking about this is you have a family who’s already in dire straits and is worried about their home and protecting their family and then they come here for refuge and then this happens,” Ingram said. “So it’s just horrible. All of our hearts are broken.”

Ingram told Panama City News Herald on Thursday that no foul play is suspected and law enforcement officials are investigating the incident. The child’s body was turned over to medical examiners for further evaluations, Ingram told PEOPLE Friday.

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“I hate to warn anybody to watch their kids because something can happen in an instant and it’s just a tragedy,” she told PEOPLE.

The city of Jacksonville was not under mandatory evacuation orders that Florida issued to roughly 2.5 million people in anticipation of the hurricane, but state officials said that the storm had potential to cause similar flooding to what Jacksonville underwent during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017, according to the News Herald.

Ingram told PEOPLE on Friday that Panama City Beach, located on Florida’s northwest coast, is “completely safe” after Hurricane Ian battered Florida this week, noting that a cold front appeared to push the storm’s path “further to the south.”

“Because we went through Hurricane Michael four years ago, everybody still has PTSD from that,” Ingram told PEOPLE.

At least 21 people are dead and thousands of people could be missing after Hurricane Ian made landfall as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph on Wednesday just after 3 p.m. local time, near Cayo Costa, Fla., according to the National Hurricane Center.

By Thursday morning, more than 2.5 million people in Florida were without power as a result of the widespread devastation caused by the storm, which snapped apart trees, leveled homes and tore down power lines across the coastline. Storm surges reached nearly 7 ft. high in areas like Fort Myers, while 12 ft. water levels were recorded in Naples.

Hurricane Ian made its third landfall Friday afternoon, north of Charleston, S.C., as a Category 1 storm.

Read the original article on People

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