TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The death toll in Hardee County from Hurricane Ian rose to three on Thursday as recovery efforts continued in the area, according to the sheriff’s office.
WFLA notes that the Florida Medical Examiners Commission has only confirmed one of the three deaths reported in the county as of Wednesday. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie says they are working to determine whether the deaths occurred directly, as a result of storm surge, rising waters, etc., or indirect death in the aftermath of the storm.
The Hardee County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook Thursday that the third person who died in the county was Craig Steven Markgraff, a 35-year-old Zolfo Springs man, who drowned in floodwaters.
Deputies said Markgraff’s friend tried to help him and his father after their trucks got stuck in floodwaters on Bronco Drive around 9 p.m. on Sept. 28, as the storm hit the area.
“Craig’s father and friend left the area and reported seeing Craig holding onto a tree limb with flood waters rising,” the sheriff’s office said on Facebook. “Craig’s father was unable to reach his son by phone after leaving.”
It’s unclear what happened between the time Markgraff went missing and when he drowned.
An hour after his father and friend left the area, he reportedly went on Facebook live with his brother from his home and started shooting rifles during the livestream, deputies said.
The next day, Markgraff was reported missing.
After the storm passed, rescue crews searched multiple areas in the county by water and air, including Bronco Drive. Markgraff’s body was recovered during a waterborne search on Tuesday, authorities said.
Hardee County’s medical examiner’s office positively identified the body as his on Wednesday, and determined he drowned six to 10 days ago.
WFLA previously reported two others died in the county due to the effects of Hurricane Ian. Two people from Jacksonville were killed when their SUV was swept away by floodwaters in the area of Sweetwater Road and Charlie Creek Bridge. One person survived.