TALLAHASSEE — 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 residents 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.
At a later news conference Wednesday at a Florida Power and Light processing site, DeSantis and FPL executives assured the public that crowds of linemen are ready to work 16-hour days to bring power back.
But DeSantis, while emphasizing that Florida’s government will work to fix as much as they can as soon as they can, also warned residents that the effects could carry on.
“This is not just a 48-hour ordeal, this is something that’s going to be there for days, and weeks and months,” DeSantis said. “And unfortunately, in some circumstances, even years.”
DeSantis said there are often more fatalities after the storm, and warned residents to avoid driving or walking through flooded roads.
Jimmy Patronis, the state’s chief financial officer and fire marshal, said his office will be setting up “insurance villages” in the affected areas to take claims.
He told people to be wary of scams, and that residents should directly contact their insurance agent or the Florida Department of Financial Services after the storm.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” Patronis said.
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2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT THE HURRICANE: A school mental health expert says to let them know what’s happening, keep a routine and stay calm.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN A SHELTER: What to bring — and not bring — plus information on pets, keeping it civil and more.
SAFEGUARD YOUR HOME: Storms and property damage go hand in hand. Here’s how to prepare.
IT'S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.
RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here's how to get ready.
DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits
PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.
SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.
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Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change
PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.
PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don't understand the risk.
PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?
INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.