Hurricane Ian continues to inch toward Florida and is already bringing strong winds and offshoot tornados in Southeast Florida which have led to power outages for 8,000 people.
That number will balloon dramatically in the next few days, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, as Ian hits the state, likely as a Category 4 storm.
“There are about 8,000 without power … of course that number will be into the millions relatively shortly,” DeSantis told reporters at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee late Tuesday night. “We’re working with all of those (utility) companies to be sure they have the ability to get in as soon as possible and restore power.”
DeSantis said 30,000 utility workers are staged in areas to help restore power once the storm clears
As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, the latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows Ian more than 100 miles southwest of Punta Gorda, moving at 10 mph with sustained winds of 120 mph.
Residents in Southwest Florida, in Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties, are at most risk from heavy storm surges and flooding, and emergency management officials have focused much of their pre-landfall resources on responding to those areas and other coastal areas that will fell the brunt of Ian’s damage. More than 2.5 million Floridians are under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.
Landfall is projected to come Wednesday afternoon at the Charlotte-Sarasota County line, but the effects of heavy winds, rain, flooding and storm surge will be felt well before then.
“If you are in an evacuation zone … your time to evacuate is coming to an end,” DeSantis said. “You don’t need to traverse the state, but you need to get to higher ground, you need to get to structures that are safe.”
Bridges could begin closing early tomorrow morning, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue said, so residents, especially those on barrier islands, should factor that into their decisions on when to leave or face riding out the storm. When sustained winds hit 40 mph, FDOT will start shutting down the bridges, Purdue said.
Ian’s forecasted path will take it up through the state, exiting in Volusia County, but it will take up to two days to do so, dumping heavy rain and vicious winds even as it weakens over land. That will produce damage throughout inland Central Florida and into Northeast Florida, so residents there should gird for Ian’s impact as well, DeSantis said.