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What officials expect now that Hurricane Ian hit Florida as a Category 4 storm

Officials say the chance to evacuate some areas is closed; FEMA stockpiling water, supplies in Alabama

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A couple walks along the waterfront that is seeing the effects of Hurricane Ian in St. Petersburg, Fla.

A couple walks along the waterfront that is seeing the effects of Hurricane Ian Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Steve Helber, Associated Press

Hurricane Ian has reached Florida with what Weather.com describes as “catastrophic surge, winds and flooding.” The hurricane’s eye reached land around 3 p.m. ET near Cayo Costa in the southwest part of the state.

Floridians are hunkering down as brutal sustained winds up to 150 mph lashed parts of the state. Hurricane Ian was so fierce it blacked out Cuba and killed two people. Officials say the window has closed for those who didn’t heed evacuation calls to get out of the hurricane’s projected path.

Virtually every news story and advisory regarding Hurricane Ian in Florida uses the words “catastrophic,” “life-threatening” and “devastating.” Hurricanes.gov said that “extremely dangerous Category 4 Hurricane Ian continues to move inland at the Cape Coral-Punta Gorda area.”

“This landfall is tied for the 4th strongest landfall for a hurricane in Florida, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach,” Weather.com said, with storm surges along the coast near Naples, “where over 6 feet of storm surge inundation has been measured, more than any other storm at that gauge location in at least 50 years. The tidal gauge there has since broken.”

Multiple news reports say that the water from the storm surge is now higher than the first floor of some homes at Fort Myers Beach.

The National Hurricane Center reported that “catastrophic wind damaging is beginning” near the landfall location. “Preparations to protect life and property should be urgently rushed to completion.”

According to the Orlando Sentinel, “The system had been pummeling the coast with near Category 5 sustained winds of 155 mph with higher gusts since this morning. It’s expected to make a second landfall as it approaches Charlotte Harbor in a similar path to 2004′s Hurricane Charley that also carved its way into Central Florida.”

The hurricane is reportedly creeping along in a north-northeast direction at 9 mph, which leaves plenty of time to do significant damage to whatever is in its path, in what appears to be a journey to Orlando, the article said.

More than 1 million residents are already without power and more outages are expected throughout Florida.

Rescue crews will not respond to emergency calls during the height of the hurricane because of the danger. That’s one reason mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders are issued, officials warned.

Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Administration said that water and other crucial supplies are being stockpiled in Florida and in neighboring Alabama and Georgia, as they’re likely to be needed after the storm. A news release from FEMA said the supplies include 3.5 million liters of water, 3.7 million meals and 6,380 cots.

“Water levels are still rising in Ft Myers as of Wednesday afternoon, but it is already higher than previous high water marks, with data going back to 1965,” CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said. “Naples water levels were already more than 2 feet higher than ever observed at 1 p.m., but the gauge stopped reporting data so it is unclear how high it reached.”

Earlier in the day, WFLA reported that “on Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center upgraded Hurricane Ian to an ‘extremely dangerous’ category 4 hurricane, saying maximum sustained windspeeds had neared 155 mph — merely 2 mph short of becoming a Category 5 hurricane. As of 8 a.m., the center of the storm was approximately 55 miles west of Naples.”

CNN also reported that “more than 7,500 people are riding out Hurricane Ian in Hillsborough County shelters,” based on information from the sheriff’s office.

The National Hurricane Center earlier said it expects gusts of wind up to 190 mph and said the area from Collier County to Sarasota County will sustain the most damage, while storm surges could be devastating between the Sarasota and Naples areas.

And the center warned that “catastrophic storm surge inundation of 12 to 16 feet above ground level along with destructive waves are expected somewhere along the southwest Florida coastline from Englewood to Bonita Beach.”

The Florida peninsula and parts of the Southeast U.S. are expected to become extremely soggy later this week.

Florida had been dealing with related tornados ahead of Ian, as well.

Before Ian slammed into Florida, The Orlando Sentinel quoted Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spoke from the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee just hours ahead of expected landfall: “Clearly, this is a very powerful major hurricane that’s going to have major impacts, both on impact in southwest Florida, but then as it continues to work through the state. It is going to have major, major impacts in terms of wind, in terms of rain, in terms of flooding, so this is going to be a nasty, nasty day — two days.”

Evacuation orders and advice

Per Weather.com, “NHC senior meteorologist Eric Blake noted Wednesday morning nobody alive has witnessed storm surge as high as forecast for Ian in southwest Florida. This could, in fact, be a record storm surge for southwest Florida, according to data from the National Weather Service.”

The forecast in the area directly in Ian’s path is up to 24 inches of rain.

In some parts of Florida, those who failed to evacuate despite a mandatory evacuation order are out of time; it can no longer be done safely. They need to find shelter.

News reports say 5,000 Florida National Guardsmen and 2,000 from elsewhere are on standby to help, but no one will be going out to rescue people who didn’t evacuate in the midst of the most severe weather.

DeSantis said people need to huddle in place as they would in a tornado.

  • DeSantis also offered advice for during and after the storm:
    Avoid downed power lines.
  • Stay out of standing water and keep away from uprooted trees or fallen branches.
  • Don’t use your power generator indoors — it poses carbon monoxide poisoning danger.
  • Don’t try to drive on flooded roads.

In a news release, FEMA said that Florida officials had waived tolls so that people could evacuate more quickly. It said those who choose not to evacuate need to know their home’s ability to survive strong winds.

The release noted that FEMA has 3,500 reserve personnel available who will be able to provide help after the storm, as well as 7,500 Surge Capacity Force members if needed. mobile communications operation vehicles, Urban Search and Rescue teams, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and medical support — including up to 52 ambulances and 100 paratransit seats — are also being staged to quickly act when it is safe after Ian wreaks its havoc.

Federal health and medical task forces are also gathering and preparing in Atlanta, it said.

A toll-free hotline for current Hurricane Ian information is available at 1-800-342-3557.

Note: This story has been updated as the storm has progressed.