By Terrance Turner
Sept. 28, 2022 (11:55 am CST)
Florida residents are bracing for impact as Hurricane Ian prepares to make landfall. The storm’s eyewall is moving onshore now, according to CNN.
Hurricane Ian is now a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph — just two miles shy of a Category 5. Hurricane-force winds are now beginning to spread inland across central Florida as the center of Hurricane Ian is only 45 miles southwest of Punta Gorda, Florida, as of 12 p.m. ET, per CNN.
UPDATE: According to the Tampa Bay Times, power outages have already begun across the area. “As of 1:30 pm, there were more than 50,000 outages reported in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, wrote Times staff member Dan Sullivan. (Hillsborough and Pinellas are both located in west-central Florida. Hillsborough contains the state’s third-largest city, Tampa. Pinellas County includes the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater.)
Meanwhile, storm surge has arrived along part of the southwest Florida coast. In Naples, Florida (between Fort Myers and Miami), over six feet of storm surge has been measured from Ian. That’s the most of any storm at that location in over 50 years, according to the National Weather Service. (Storm surge is rising water moving inland from the shore, pushed onshore by the wind. Peak surges of 3-6 feet are forecast in Tampa; Fort Myers faces 12-18 feet.)
More than 2.5 million Floridians were under evacuation orders or warnings yesterday, as the storm reached Category 3. The New York Times reports:
In Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, a mandatory evacuation was ordered for coastal areas on Monday and another order on Tuesday for some inland areas. Residents can use an online tool to see their evacuation status. People under the orders must evacuate by 9 p.m. on Tuesday. A list of shelters is available here and you can sign up for emergency alerts here.
Pasco County, just north of Tampa, ordered mandatory evacuations for some areas on Monday, with voluntary evacuations elsewhere. Shelters will be available starting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday; a list of shelters can be found here, and an interactive map of evacuation zones here.
Hernando County, further north of Tampa, ordered a mandatory evacuation on Tuesday of all areas west of U.S. Highway 19, which includes residents in coastal and low-lying areas […]
Lee County, which includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral, ordered evacuations for barrier islands and low-lying areas. An evacuation map is available here. Shelters began opening as of 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
Pinellas County, which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater, ordered evacuations for some areas beginning at 6 p.m. Monday, with more areas joining at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Residents can check their evacuation zone here.
In a news conference yesterday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned that “the impacts are going to be far, far broader than just where the eye of the storm happens to make landfall. In some areas, there will be catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surge.”
“Mother Nature is a very fearsome adversary, so please heed the warnings,” he said. “You don’t need to evacuate to another state. You don’t need to go hundreds of miles away. There are shelters that are open at all of these counties at this point.” And he added that those under evacuation orders should heed them.
“If you’re under an evacuation order, evacuate to higher ground,” he said. “That is going to be safe from the type of surge and flooding that we’re hearing with this storm.”
And he’s not alone in his directives. Florida’s director of emergency management, Kevin Guthrie, urged residents in evacuation zones to move to safety. “The time to evacuate is now. Get on the road,” he said yesterday.
And many people complied. South Tampa residents Raymond Oubichon and his girlfriend, Chantell Holden, hit the road at 6 a.m. Tuesday and by midmorning were in the parking lot of a fully booked Motel 6 (just off Interstate 75) in Ocala, Fla., about 100 miles north of home. They were looking for a room, per the Washington Post.
Oubichon, 49, is a retired entertainer from New Orleans. He was out of town when Hurricane Katrina devastated that city in 2005. But his family and neighborhood were hit hard. “So I know what water and storm surge can do,” Oubichon said. “I’ve only been in Tampa for two years, but I did not want to try to ride out a hurricane here.” He added, even if it meant having to put overpriced hotel rooms on his new credit card. “I don’t want to max it out already, but also, I don’t want to die. So here we are.”
MSNBC interviewed several Floridians who were among the evacuees — including another South Tampa resident. “I never left before, but they’re predicting the storm will be moving kinda slow,” the man told reporters. “I live in South Tampa. It’s a flood control zone.”
“This one just feels a little bit different,” said a blonde Florida woman interviewed on camera. She added: “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
President Biden discussed the storm while at a D.C. conference on nutrition and health this morning. “Before I begin, speaking of health: we’ve all been reading and hearing about the hurricane — Hurricane Ian,” he said, “and the impact it’s going to have on our fellow Americans down in Florida. Yesterday I spoke with Governor DeSantis for some time; our team has been in constant contact with him from the very beginning. And the mayors of Tampa, St Pete and Clearwater,” he added. “And my message has been absolutely clear: We are on alert and in action. We’ve approved every request so far made for temporary assistance, emergency assistance and long-term assistance that I received.”
“We’ve discussed what we’ve done to prepare for the hurricane. That includes dispatching hundreds of FEMA personnel and activating thousands of National Guard members. We’ve also developed a search and rescue team to deploy; mobile federal agencies are already on the ground offering help as we speak. FEMA pre-positioned millions of liters of water, millions of meals, and hundreds of generators. We have scheduled everything we can possibly do — so we think,” he said. I made it clear to the governor and the mayors that the federal government is ready to help in every single way possible.”
“Now I’ll repeat what I said yesterday to the people of Florida: this storm is incredibly dangerous. To state the obvious, it’s life-threatening. You should obey all warnings AND directions from emergency officials,” the president urged. “Don’t take anything for granted. Use their judgment, not yours. Evacuate when ordered. Be prepared. Storm warnings are real. Evacuation notices are real. The danger is real.
When the storm passes, the federal government’s going to be there to help you recover; we’ll be there to help you clean up and review to help Florida get moving again. I will be there every step of the way. That’s my absolute commitment to the people of the State of Florida,” he said, to applause. “And if you’ll forgive me, I’d like to add one more warning; that’s a warning to the oil and gas industry executives: Do not — let me repeat — do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices and gouge the American people.”
The crowd burst into applause. As the ovation subsided, President Biden pointed out that only 190,000 gallons of oil a day are affected by the storm. That’s less than 2% of production. “This small, temporary storm impact on oil production provides no excuse — no excuse — for price increases at the pump. None,” he said.
Hurricane Ian has officially made landfall. The eye of Ian made landfall near Cayo Costa around 305 p.m. EDT (2:05 CST) according to NWS and the Weather Channel.
More than 1 million Floridians are now without power, per CNN host Jake Tapper. The number is now up to 1.5 million, according to poweroutage.us.
Ian made a second landfall near Punta Gorda today around 4:35 pm EDT. Then Ian’s center moved inland about 15 miles east-northeast from Punta Gorda. That’s 110 miles south-southwest of Orlando. The storm is now forecast to become a Category 1 by 2 am Thursday, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
As of 5 pm EDT, more than 200,000 outages are reported in areas including Pinella and Hillsborough counties, per the Tampa Bay Times. Duke Energy reported roughly 123,000 customers without power in Pinellas. Scattered outages in St. Petersburg totaled nearly 86,000. And at least 26,000 more are in Clearwater and north Pinellas. Also, Tampa Electric Company reported more than 83,000 without power in the coverage area, which includes Hillsborough County.
And the storm’s effect on power has been dangerous. A downed power line ignited on a street in Naples, Florida, leading to a fire:
On the other hand, widespread flooding in Naples led to a fire station being inundated:
BREAKING: Ian has now been downgraded to a Category 3 storm. The National Hurricane Center updated the storm’s status in an update at 8 pm EDT. Ian is now moving northeast at just 8 mph. It’s about 95 miles southwest of Orlando. “Widespread life-threatening catastrophic flash and urban flooding, with major to record flooding along rivers is expected to continue across central Florida,” the Center said.