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Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida’s southwestern coast Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history, tearing apart homes and buildings and leaving some residents stranded as storm surge flooded communities.
The storm made landfall near Cayo Costa as a Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon with maximum sustained winds measured at a stunning 150 mph — only 7 mph slower than a Category 5, the highest status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale of Hurricane Intensity. It slowed as it lashed the state and was downgraded to a Category 1 storm Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center reported.
“It is going to have major, major impacts in terms of wind, in terms of rain, in terms of flooding,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned in a briefing Wednesday. “So this is going to be a nasty, nasty day, two days.”
As of 11 p.m. ET, the storm’s center was located 70 miles south of Orlando. The storm was moving north-northeast at 8 mph with weakening maximum sustained winds at 90 mph, according to the hurricane center. Ian is forecast to continue to weaken and move slowly over Florida, slamming much of the state with life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and flooding, the National Hurricane Center said. It then is set to trek north-northwest, likely hitting parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
► More than 2 million are without power in Florida, according to PowerOutage.us. That number might continue to rise as the storm continues its trek across the state.
► In Naples, Fla., the first floor of a fire station was inundated with about 3 feet of water and firefighters worked to salvage gear from a firetruck stuck outside the garage in even deeper water, a video posted by the Naples Fire Department showed.
► Ian’s strength at landfall tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane when measured by wind speed to strike the U.S. It’s tied with five other hurricanes that reached 150 mph — two in Florida, two in Louisiana, and one in Texas.
► Residents described the terror after a tornado tore through a condominium complex near Delray Beach, ripping off roofs and turning over vehicles. “I felt things blow past my head and face,” resident Jim Travis said. “When I opened the door, my apartment was destroyed.” Read more.
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HURRICANE TRACKER: Where is Ian headed? See the map.
IAN FORECAST: Ian likely to spend days dumping rain on Florida. Here’s the outlook.
Hurricane Ian weakened to a Category 1 storm late Wednesday, a sharp downgrade from the strong Category 4 storm it was when it made landfall earlier in the day.
The storm’s wind speeds slowed drastically throughout the day after making landfall in Florida. By 11 p.m. ET, maximum sustained winds were measured at 90 mph, down from 150 mph earlier in the day, the National Hurricane Center reported. Forecasters say the storm will soon be downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves east across Florida.
The center of the hurricane is expected to move over central Florida overnight, approaching Florida’s east coast Thur. It will then turn north-northwest into the Atlantic Ocean and back toward Georgia and South Carolina on Friday, the center said.
Although further weakening is expected, Ian could be near hurricane strength when it moves across the state tomorrow and into Friday when it approaches coastal states to the north.
Hurricane Ian’s massive wind gusts, storm surge and flooding have wiped out 911 emergency call centers and trapped people in their homes, officials said Wednesday.
The storm forced the rerouting of emergency calls and delayed responses in Lee, Hendry and Glades counties, DeSantis said during a Wednesday evening briefing.
And in the coastal city of Naples, the sheriff’s department reported on Facebook that it was getting “a significant number of calls of people trapped by water in their homes” and that it would prioritize reaching people “reporting life threatening medical emergencies in deep water.”
Earlier in the day, the sheriff’s office said multiple parking garages had flooded with cars underwater.
Nearly 2 million Floridians were without power as of 10 p.m. ET, according to PowerOutage.us.
“That number is going to grow,” DeSantis said. “You’re going to get more power outages.”
The massive hurricane could force Florida Power & Light (FPL) to do a “complete rebuild” in some parts of Florida’s west coast, which could take days or weeks, the utility company told CNN.
“What we’re seeing already just from some of the early visuals, we expect that there are going to be parts of our system on the West Coast, which will need to be rebuilt and that is going to take longer — could be a number of days, could be a matter of weeks, depending on the nature of the damages,” said Dave Reuter, chief communications officer for Florida Power & Light.
More customers, he said, will be losing power as the path of the storm crosses central Florida.
Four Cuban migrants swam to shore in the Florida Keys, and three others were rescued from the ocean after their boat sank Wednesday, shortly before Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida. But it’s possible that 20 more people are still missing, officials said.
The four Cubans reached Stock Island, just east of Key West, and reported their vessel sank because of inclement weather, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar posted on Twitter.
The U.S. Coast Guard initiated a search and rescue mission for 23 people and managed to find three survivors about two miles south of the island chain, officials said. The survivors were taken to a local hospital for symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration. Air crews continued to search for the remaining migrants.
Hurricane Ian is following an eerily similar path to the strongest recorded hurricane to hit Southwest Florida — and it is nearly three times its size.
Hurricane Charley ravaged Southwest Florida in August 2004, and 31 people died in relation to the hurricane, the CDC said.
But despite its damage, Charley was a relatively small hurricane: it was fairly contained to a limited area in its swath across Florida. The worst storm surge was around seven feet in a small area of the state’s west coast.
Hurricane Ian is much larger. As of Wednesday morning, its area of hurricane-force winds was nearly three times larger than Charley’s, up to 45 miles from the center, and its area of tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles.
“This is way, way, way bigger than Charlie,” DeSantis said during a press conference Wednesday.
An extreme wind warning was in effect was in effect for portions of southwest Florida for extremely dangerous hurricane winds as Ian came ashore. “Treat these imminent extreme winds as if a tornado was approaching and move immediately to an interior room or shelter NOW!,” the National Weather Service warned.
National Weather Service Director Ken Graham said the storm was moving at 9 mph and was slowing down. It will take 24 hours or more to cross the state, he said – “24 hours of rainfall, 24 hours of wind pushing the water.”
Some areas will see 24 inches of rain, some will see storm surge of 18 feet, he said.
“This is a devastating storm for parts of Florida, not just on the southwest coast but inland,” he said. “This is going to be a storm we will talk about for many years to come. It’s a historic event.”
Ian was expected to weaken after landfall, the hurricane center said, but the storm could remain near hurricane strength when it moves over Florida’s east coast Thursday. And could still hold its power as it approaches the northeastern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts late Friday.
Heavy rainfall will spread across the Florida peninsula through Thursday.
“Widespread, life-threatening catastrophic flooding is expected across portions of central Florida with considerable flooding in southern Florida, northern Florida, southeastern Georgia and coastal South Carolina,” the service said in an advisory.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency order for the entire state and said up to 500 National Guard troops were preparing to be called up if needed.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Deanne Criswell says her biggest concern is the expected storm surge and inland flooding from heavy rains as the storm crawls across Florida over the next two days. She urged residents across the state to heed the warnings of local officials for the “historic and catastrophic impacts that we are already beginning to see.”
“Water is dangerous, period,” Criswell said at a briefing Wednesday. “From coastal storm surge to inland flooding, the majority of the state of Florida is in Ian’s crosshairs.”
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Tornadoes also were a risk. Twisters were possible through Wednesday night across central and south Florida, the hurricane center said. CBS4-TV reported that least 10 mobile homes were damaged by a possible tornado Tuesday in Davie, a Broward County city of 110,000 people 25 miles north of Miami. Another possible tornado also was reported in Broward County.
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The Storm Prediction Center said Wednesday that “the risk of a few tornadoes should gradually increase across parts of central and east-central Florida this afternoon, with a potential focus from Lake Okeechobee northward to near Orlando during the next few hours.”
Cuba remained in the dark early Wednesday after Hurricane Ian knocked out its power grid and devastated homes, businesses and valuable tobacco farms when it hit the island’s western tip Tuesday as a Category 3 storm. Authorities were working to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people, Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement.
“The damage is great, although it has not yet been possible to account for it. Aid is already pouring in from all over the country,” Cuban President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez said on Twitter. “Rest assured that we will recover.”
Airports in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Key West were closed Wednesday. Orlando International was scheduled to shut down at 10:30 a.m., and at least 700 flights in and out were canceled by early Wednesday.
Miami-Dade County suspended Metrobus, Metrorail and other transit services “until further notice.” Disney World theme parks and Sea World in Orlando all closed ahead of the storm.
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A couple from England on vacation in Tampa found themselves faced with riding out the storm at a shelter. Glyn and Christine Williams of London were told to leave their hotel near the beach when evacuations were ordered. Because the airport shut down, they could get no flight home.
“Unfortunately, all the hotels are full or closed, so it looks as though we’re going to be in one of the shelters,” Christine Williams said.
President warns oil companies about price gouging
President Joe Biden on Wednesday warned oil and gas companies against increasing prices for consumers as Hurricane Ian neared landfall.
“Do not, let me repeat, do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people,” Biden said at the start of a conference on hunger in America.
Biden said that the hurricane “provides no excuse for price increases at the pump” and if it happens, he will ask federal officials to determine ”whether price gauging is going on.”
Contributing: Douglas Soule and Sergio Bustos, USA Today Network-Florida; The Associated Press
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