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Florida residents in Ian's path had about a day's warning to evacuate. Was it enough?

Emily L. Mahoney, Romy Ellenbogen and Barbara Behrendt, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

It was Tuesday morning, the day before Hurricane Ian bulldozed into Southwest Florida and already less than 24 hours before Gov. Ron DeSantis declared it was too late for remaining residents to evacuate.

But at a Collier County Commission meeting, officials agreed they should pray for Tampa Bay.

“There’s a lot of reasons for us to be praying these days, especially with anybody that’s been watching the Weather Channel,” said commission chairperson William McDaniel. “So keep our friends in the northern (part of the state) and of Tampa and such in our prayers as well. They’re staring at this thing right now.”

Later in the meeting, he would criticize the news media for “saying a whole bunch of different things” about the storm and local preparation. He commended a county official for avoiding that kind of “hyperbole.”

At the time of the 9 a.m. meeting, forecasts still pointed to a catastrophic Tampa Bay-area landfall, though Lee County was under a hurricane warning and Collier would soon come under a hurricane watch. By Tuesday afternoon, the immense danger for Southwest Florida would become clear.

Southwest Florida’s ultra-compressed timeline — from that realization to evacuating its residents — highlights the challenges that accompanied Hurricane Ian, a behemoth storm with a constantly changing forecast and a last-minute eastward shift. But it also has some people raising questions about whether Southwest Florida county officials acted with enough urgency to give residents time to get out.

 

Evacuations were mandated for Lee County’s most vulnerable zone 13 hours after Pinellas County issued its first order, and 17 hours after Hillsborough began its evacuations. While emergency management experts caution against comparing the evacuation times of different counties due to varying geography and population, the differences illustrate just how quickly Southwest Florida residents were told to respond.

Kathrine Morong, a Fort Myers resident living in the most vulnerable evacuation area, Zone A, had been listening for days to local news broadcasts warning of the storm’s danger. She had already made her preparations, like getting pet supplies and gasoline, and was waiting to see what happened next.

When Lee County ordered evacuations on Tuesday morning, she had an instant reaction: Why did they wait so long?

Morong said she had been ready to go earlier but the timing of the order meant that she and her neighbors had to leave when it was already storming outside, and it was too late to find an available room out of harm’s way. She ended up at an AirBnB in Southeast Florida.

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