TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday morning said it is no longer safe for people to evacuate Floridians’ southwest coast and urged them to “hunker down” as Hurricane Ian could make landfall as a powerful Category 5 storm this afternoon.
“It is no longer possible to safely evacuate,” he said. “It’s time to hunker down and prepare for this storm. This is a powerful storm that should be treated like you would treat if a tornado was approaching your home.”
Ian strengthened overnight into an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, packing sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour. DeSantis said state officials are preparing for it to smash into the state as a Category 5, and make landfall on the Charlotte County coast.
The highest-risk areas are ranging from Collier County up to Sarasota County, DeSantis said.
“This will cause life-threatening storm surge, flooding — tropical storm force winds will be felt through the entire state and even isolated tornadoes,” Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s emergency management director, said at a press briefing with DeSantis in Tallahassee at the state’s emergency operations center. “I urge Floridians who have made the decision to shelter in place to stay indoors and stay off the roads.”
Roughly 2.5 million resident were under evacuation orders or advisories in parts of coastal Florida on Tuesday. Most people heeded the warnings, but not everyone did, DeSantis said.
“If you are on the roads, get to a safe place as soon as possible,” DeSantis said. “There’s more than 200 shelters open in just the southwest Florida region alone.”
DeSantis said the Sunshine Skyway, from Manatee to Pinellas counties, is closed to traffic now. He also said first-responders are staged around the state to react as soon as conditions allow.
“We understand that a storm of this magnitude, there is going to be a need to begin those rescue efforts,” DeSantis said.
Before that can happen, state officials are urging Floridians to find shelter from the “extremely dangerous” weather conditions.
Residents were asked to make sure battery-operated or hand-cranked radios are charged and working to check for weather updates, as power outages are expected to impact nearly the entire state.
“If you get a weather alert for a tornado... get to an interior room, free of windows, have stuff to be able to protect your head and body from debris such as a blanket, sleeping bag, mattress or even potentially helmets,” Guthrie said.
If an area floods, Guthrie said it is “never safe” to walk or drive through a flooded area.
Florida is prepared to deploy rescue teams and other response teams in the storm’s aftermath. The state is working with telephone and utility companies to restore communications and power, will have airlift hoists and high-water vehicles for rescues, as well as the assistance of thousands of National Guard personnel from Florida and neighboring states. Twenty-six states have also offered support to Florida.
“This is a major, major effort,” DeSantis said. “As this storm hits, we’ve got massive amounts of assets that are staged. We are already discussing ways about were could get added support.”
DeSantis, however, told Floridians to expect a “nasty, nasty” few days.©2022 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.