Hurricane Ian continued to batter Florida after making landfall as an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm on Wednesday, bringing ‘catastrophic’ storm surge, winds and flooding as one of the strongest storms on record in the state.
With maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, just 7 mph from a Category 5 hurricane, Ian made landfall around 3:05 p.m. in Cayo Costa, near a stretch of the state’s heavily populated Gulf Coast near of Fort Myers, the National Hurricane Center in Miami. said.
The storm was about 70 miles south of Orlando and moving north-northeast at a speed of 8 mph, moving inland with winds easing to 90 mph, according to the latest update. update from the NHC.
Watch live: Find out where Hurricane Ian is heading after hitting land on Florida’s Gulf Coast
Hundreds of thousands of Floridians had received mandatory evacuation orders in anticipation of a powerful storm surge, high winds and torrential rain from Ian. More than 1.1 million power outages have been reported statewide, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.
Forecasters had said the area where Ian made landfall could be inundated by a storm surge of up to 18ft.
“A storm of this magnitude will produce catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surge on the Gulf Coast of Florida,” DeSantis said at a press conference Wednesday. “It’s a major, major storm.”
Off the coast on Sanibel Island near Fort Myers, water-covered residential streets were swirling and were halfway to mailbox posts by mid-morning. Seawater rushed out of Tampa Bay, leaving parts of the muddy bottom exposed, and waves crashed at the end of a wooden pier in Naples.
Many rushed to lock up their homes and move their prized possessions to upper floors before fleeing.
“You can’t do anything about natural disasters,” said Vinod Nair, who drove inland from the Tampa area on Tuesday with his wife, son, dog and two kittens in search of a hotel in the tourist district of Orlando. “We live in a high-risk area, so we thought it best to evacuate.”
Ian had already made landfall as a Category 3 storm Tuesday in Cuba, just southwest of the town of La Coloma in Pinar Del Rio province, knocking out the power grid and leaving the entire island without power.
Ian slowed over the Gulf, allowing the hurricane to widen and strengthen. Winds exceeding tropical storm force 39 mph had already reached Florida by 3 a.m. Wednesday and hurricane-force winds were in Florida long before the storm’s eyewall moved inland, said the Miami-based NHC Center.
DeSantis said more power outages are expected and he urged people to prepare for extended outages. He said Florida would receive help from several states, including Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and New York.
The National Hurricane Center hurricane warning was in effect for Chokoloskee at Anclote River, including Tampa Bay, and Sebastian Inlet at the Flagler/Volusia County line. A hurricane watch was in effect for the Flagler/Volusia County line to the South Santee River.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for Indian Pass at the Anclote River, all Florida Keys, Flamingo at South Santee River, Flamingo at Sebastian Inlet, Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.
Photos: ‘Catastrophic’ Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Florida
A storm surge warning was in effect for the Lower Florida Keys from Big Pine Key west to Key West, the Suwannee River south to Flamingo, Tampa Bay, the Flagler/Volusia line to at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River and the St. Johns River.
More than 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, in Hillsborough, Lee and other counties.
Lee County — where Fort Myers is located on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast — had issued mandatory evacuations early Tuesday for low-lying areas, including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Bonita Beach, home to about 250,000 people, after forecasters widened the hurricane warning zone.
NBC’s Sam Brock reports from Tampa as residents evacuate the city.
“If you find yourself in one of these counties, it’s no longer possible to evacuate safely. It’s time to hide and prepare for the storm,” DeSantis said Wednesday. you must do to stay safe. If you are where this storm is approaching, you are already in dangerous conditions. Worse very quickly. So please hang in there.
DeSantis activated the state National Guard ahead of the expected storm impact this week. The governor’s statement releases emergency protection funds to address potential damage from storm surges, flooding, dangerous winds and other weather conditions across the state.
DeSantis expanded the state of emergency declaration on Saturday to include the entire state.
The west coast of Florida braces for the impact of what is called a ‘deadly storm’ as Hurricane Ian upgrades to a dangerous Category 4 hurricane
Tampa International Airport suspended all operations Tuesday afternoon due to the hurricane. Travelers were advised to contact their airline for more information. American Airlines, meanwhile, slashed fares for flights from 20 area airports likely to be affected by the storm. The airline was also waiving checked baggage and pet fees to help people in the area evacuate.
Florida Power & Light was preparing more than 13,000 workers to help respond to Hurricane Ian, company officials said. The power company said it is prepositioning workers and supplies to respond to any outages due to the hurricane.
Although South Florida was not directly impacted by Hurricane Ian, severe weather and flooding were expected across the region over the next two days.
In Broward, volatile storms crossing Tuesday night spawned a tornado that knocked down small planes and an unconfirmed second tornado that tore through a neighborhood uprooting trees.
A flood watch was issued for most of South Florida and remained in effect until Wednesday evening.
The City of Miami opened its emergency operations center at 9 a.m. Tuesday to deal with the expected flooding from Ian.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez reassured residents that all permanent water pumps are working and seven additional portable pumps will be installed as needed.
Schools in Miami-Dade and Broward were announcing closures this week due to Ian. All schools and Monroe County School District offices were closed Tuesday and will remain closed Wednesday due to impacts from Hurricane Ian.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the county expects between three and eight inches of rain by Thursday with a risk of two to four feet of storm surge in southern parts of the county. .
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Monday night that the football team is relocating football operations to the Miami area in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Florida Gators and UCF Knights moved their games to Sunday while the USF Bulls will now play their game Saturday in Boca Raton.