Our live updates for Thursday have concluded. Friday’s live updates post is up and running here.
Hurricane Ian battered Florida with catastrophic storm surge, wind and rain throughout Wednesday night and into Thursday morning as it slowly made its way northeast across the state, before being downgraded to a tropical storm before daybreak.
Evacuation orders have been lifted in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, although officials are urging people to continue to shelter in place and not to emerge too early as the hurricane continued its relentless path, leaving downed trees and power lines in its wake. Some 500,000 people had no electricity Thursday morning as crews raced to restore power and clear roads. But neither Tampa International Airport nor St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport reported serious damage, and both will reopen on Friday.
The death toll by Thursday night had climbed to at least 17.
The National Hurricane Center said in a 8 p.m. update that Ian’s center is about 215 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina. A hurricane warning has been issued for the coast of North Carolina, with storm surge warnings and watches in place for parts of South Carolina and Georgia.
The storm surge watch was discontinued Thursday morning for the Suwannee River south to the middle of Longboat Key, including Tampa Bay. In addition, the tropical storm warning for the Gulf coast of Florida and Lake Okeechobee was also discontinued.
10:05 p.m.: ‘No identified damage’ to Piney Point
Piney Point, the abandoned phosphate plant in Manatee County that has long been an environmental headache for the region, sustained no damage from Hurricane Ian, according to a news release from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
According the news release, the site “received 6.74 inches of rain this week,” and has received almost 50 inches of rainfall since the beginning of the year.
The current storage capacity for additional rainfall at the site is approximately 21 inches, according the release.
DEP is working to continue to monitor and manage water levels, it stated.
9:51 p.m.: With little time to evacuate, couple recount riding out storm
BONITA BEACH — A linen couch. A Vitamix blender. A teddy bear and a full gallon of Arnold Palmer Iced Tea.
A Peloton. A race car and a Rolls Royce.
The everyday items of the people who live along Bonita Beach now sit unclaimed and half-buried in the powdery white sands along the shoreline.
At the far end of the beachfront community there was a gas leak, and the multimillion-dollar homes stood crumbling to the ground.
The streets, sidewalks and lawns were buried under at least two feet of wet sand and covered in a lattice of downed power lines.
Many in the ritzy island enclave of Little Hickory Island said they didn’t ride out the storm in waterfront mansions by choice. By the time they knew Hurricane Ian was heading their way, there wasn’t time to leave.
It was Tuesday morning when Lee County first issued evacuation orders for all of Zone A, and those orders weren’t considered “mandatory” until early that evening.
Standing outside the gutted, three-story home he and his wife built two years ago, Greg Stout said the first clue he and his wife Rachel had that Ian wouldn’t be heading to Tampa as planned was when they noticed there weren’t any birds in the sky. That night, it looked like something from a horror film — like horrific Hollywood tsunami footage except, in this case, the waves just kept coming, he said.
”This house is like a fortress,” Stout said. “Concrete and steel, hurricane windows that are basically bulletproof, but even with all of the best security you can get against a hurricane, they still tell you your home should withstand a Category 5 hurricane for five hours. And this was a lot longer than five hours.”
As the neighbors surveyed all of the damage left behind in the aftermath of the hurricane, Greg and Rachel Stout couldn’t help but notice all the birds were coming back home.
— Anastasia Dawson
9:30 p.m.: Death toll climbs to at least 17
FORT MYERS BEACH — The end times weren’t likely to come this far south. But there was a chance.
For days, forecasters had placed the spot Hurricane Ian would eventually make landfall within the cone of uncertainty. Most residents here fled.
Some didn’t. They hunkered down as best they could, flocking to sturdy buildings or upper floors. Surely, they figured, it would be safe above ground level.
Wednesday night proved some of them wrong. Daybreak on Thursday revealed devastation — more slices of salt-streaked Florida forever altered by a storm.
Those in charge struggled to offer a realistic assessment of the death toll: The Lee County sheriff told a national audience on Good Morning America that “hundreds” could be dead from the storm. Gov. Ron DeSantis later clarified that the sheriff’s number was an “estimate” based on emergency calls from people in flooded homes.
Later in the day, President Joe Biden told reporters the storm could be the “deadliest hurricane in Florida history.” That pronouncement is likely to prove incorrect given Florida’s deadliest hurricane killed at least 2,500 in 1928.
Officials reported at least 17 hurricane deaths Thursday. That number is expected to increase.
— Kirby Wilson, Zachary T. Sampson and Anastasia Dawson
9:17 p.m.: ‘Dispatch from Pine Island captures uncertainty, heartache
MATLACHA — Just past Island Pho & Grill, the road to Pine Island fell into the pass.
Hurricane Ian’s eye slashed through this area, dropping the one road in or out. People who chose to ride out the storm were stranded — in St. James City, Bokeelia and elsewhere.
Aimee Sansing, 46, has driven the road every day for a couple of decades. She decided to evacuate late, but her 38-year-old brother stayed behind.
She hadn’t heard from him since 2 p.m. Wednesday, when he texted that an oak tree had split, damaging her roof.
That was a little more than an hour before Ian made landfall as a merciless Category 4 hurricane, among the strongest to ever hit the U.S.
On Thursday, Sansing had tried to drive back to Pine Island at daybreak. But a police officer she knew stopped her and told her the road leading to Bokeelia was gone.
There was no way to get to her brother.
“I’m hoping he shows up by boat,” she said.
— Zachary T. Sampson
8:55 p.m.: DeSantis pushes back on Biden’s projection of ‘deadliest storm’
Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to address the number of people reported dead from Hurricane Ian, saying that the number of people confirmed dead by the storm will eventually be released.
“I know that people have said certain things,” DeSantis said. “In terms of confirmed, that will be made apparent over the coming days.”
Local officials and sheriffs have reported as many as 17 people killed in the storm, and President Joe Biden said it “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.”
”It’s a massive storm. I mean, I think we anticipate casualties,” DeSantis said. But he did not agree with the president’s assessment.
The deadliest hurricane in Florida history was the 1928 storm that struck Palm Beach County, killing more than 2,500 people.
“I don’t think we will be anywhere approaching that,” DeSantis said.
Instead, he said there have been some non-storm related deaths reported.
”For example, in Charlotte County, they recorded a suicide during the storm,” he said. “They also had somebody pass away from a heart attack because you don’t have access to emergency services.”
More than 700 people have been rescued, DeSantis said, but he did not say how many have been reported missing or have asked for help. Police and rescue crews are going door to door checking on people who are visibly in need.
”What they’re finding is on places like Sanibel, most of the residents are just waving, thank you for coming, but they say that they’re fine, and that they’re staying put,” DeSantis said. “That’s a sign that some of the folks who did ride it out are stabilized in their home.”
State officials did not say Thursday which areas of Southwest Florida are safe to return to. They did, however, urge people not to go out to look for damage — and not to fly their drones where military and search and rescue aircraft.”
“When you go in there with your drone, they have to stop working,” Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said. “Please stay out of the area and let us do our job.”
Thursday’s news conference at the state’s Emergency Operations Center also included the CEO of Walmart U.S., John Furner, who touted a $1.5 million donation to the state’s disaster fund. — Lawrence Mower
8:45 p.m.: ‘Street shark’ is real, AP confirms
It’s a hoax that’s recycled every hurricane season — somebody shares a video of a shark allegedly swimming in stormwaters that have pooled on Florida streets, for it to be debunked a few hours later.
When Hurricane Ian rolled through Wednesday, a video surfaced on cue.
But this time, it was the real deal, according to a report from the Associated Press.
Long live the Florida ‘street shark.’
8:30 p.m.: Power back for 30% who lost it
More than a half-million outages were reported across the Tampa Bay region after Hurricane Ian took down power lines Wednesday and Thursday.
But by evening Thursday, about 30% of those without power in the area had it restored.
8:15 p.m.: Ian moves toward South Carolina
An 8 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center shows Ian — which dropped to a tropical storm Thursday afternoon — has exited the state of Florida and moved into the Atlantic Ocean, again becoming a hurricane.
The storm, now a Category 1 hurricane, had maximum winds of 75 mph as it gained power in the Atlantic. It’s expected reach the Carolinas on Friday. Storm surge warnings and watches are in effect for areas in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, according to the update.
8:00 p.m.: Emergency room reopens after closing for storm
AdventHealth North Pinellas hospital, which was evacuated for Hurricane Ian, reopened its emergency department at 7 p.m.
Patients who were evacuated will be moved back to the Tarpon Springs hospital Friday morning.
Officials anticipate reopening to the public for general and acute care at 7 a.m. Friday.
7:37 p.m.: Photos show destruction on Pine Island
Times’ photographer Douglas Clifford captured images of toppled houses, washed-out roads and piles of debris in Pine Island after Hurricane Ian tore through.
7:12 p.m.: An update from St. Petersburg’s celebrity birds
You probably saw the photo online: about a dozen flamingos, hunkered down in a bathroom at Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg, waiting to ride out the fast-approaching storm.
On the day Hurricane Ian crashed into Florida, the century-old roadside attraction posted a picture of its Chilean flamingos huddling in front of restroom stalls. The Instagram caption of the now-viral image described the animals, “having quite the hurricane party; eating, drinking and dancing.”
The post prompted Times’ reporter Gabrielle Calise to check in for an update.
As she reported on Thursday, the flamingos of Sunken Gardens are still in the bathroom. Don’t worry, they’re doing just fine.
6:43 p.m.: Local first responders aid recovery down south
Two Treasure Island firefighter paramedics were sent to Naples on Thursday to assist in rescue and recovery efforts after Hurricane Ian struck Wednesday, Treasure Island Fire Rescue announced.
The first responders are accompanying a team of busses that were converted into ambulances, which Treasure Island Fire Rescue called “ambubusses.”
The paramedics will aid in evacuating flooded hospitals and nursing homes in Ian’s aftermath, according to a release.
The crew will be in the Naples area for the next week. — Matt Cohen
6:34 p.m.: Bucs’ owners to donate $1 million to relief efforts
The Glazer family, who own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will donate $1 million to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Ian, according to a post made on the football team’s Twitter account Thursday.
“The donation will be allocated to organizations that are providing support to those who have been most impacted by the storm,” it stated.
In a statement shared with the announcement, Buccaneers co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz offered condolences to those most affected.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the countless people affected, the heroic first responders and all of those helping to keep others safe,” she wrote.
6:25 p.m.: Rays spring training site damaged by Hurricane Ian
The Tampa Bay Rays’ spring training complex at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte was wrecked by Hurricane Ian.
Metal roofing wrapped around leaning palm trees. Letters were missing off of the welcoming Home Plate main fan entrance. Fences hovered feet off the ground.
A worker said there was damage inside the buildings, too.
The roof suffered water damage that resulted in electrical issues, and a humid smell permeated inside offices.
The Times was not granted permission to tour the complex, but the blown-out marquee and missing roof panels could be seen from El Jobean Road. — Colleen Wright
5:46 p.m.: Hurricane Ian death toll rises to 13 in Florida
At least thirteen deaths have been confirmed along several counties that were on the devastating path of Hurricane Ian.
In Volusia County, a 72-year-old man from Deltona died Wednesday night after going outside during the storm to drain his pool, according to the local sheriff’s office. His wife reported his disappearance to authorities around 1a.m. Deputies found his flashlight, and his body in a canal behind the home.A 38-year-old Lake County man was also killed Thursday when his car hydroplaned in the air, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
According to the News Service of Florida, officials in Charlotte County confirmed six deaths and Lee County officials have confirmed five other deaths.
— Tess Riski,Miami Herald
5:06 p.m.: Woman waits for news of elderly mother trapped by Hurricane Ian
The last time Beth Booker spoke to her mother, photos were rolling in.
It was 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and Carole McDanel was surrounded by rising water, cutting in on both sides of her Fort Myers Beach home.
Though the 78-year-old’s house was on stilts, the flooding was surging rapidly. Only the top of her garage, with her now-submerged car inside, was visible. The coffee-colored water had engulfed her lanai and was about to reach her balcony floor.
To Booker, who was in North Naples, it was clear the storm would be inside her mother’s house imminently.
Carol McDanel was among many older adults who were caught off guard as Hurricane Ian changed course yesterday, moving away from Tampa Bay and barreling into the state’s southern counties. As Fort Myers Beach lies decimated, with many areas unreachable due to flooding and power outages, families like hers wait anxiously for news.
— Hannah Critchfield
5:02 p.m.: First 2 Florida deaths from Hurricane Ian are confirmed in Sarasota County
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating two deaths related to Hurricane Ian. These are the first confirmed fatalities in what President Joe Biden said “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.”
County spokeswoman Kaitlyn Perez said the information is preliminary. She did not immediately provide any more details about the two individuals.
— Tess Riski, Miami Herald
4:45p.m.: Hillsborough County facilities remain closed through Friday
All Hillsborough County offices and facilities will remain closed to the public through Friday with the exception of the solid waste department, which is resuming curbside pickup of trash and recycling Friday. The county also will open four sites for residents to dispose of yard debris from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday.
They are: Hillsborough Heights, 6209 County Road. 579, Seffner; Falkenburg Yard Waste Site, 350 Falkenburg Road, Tampa; South County Transfer Station, 13000 U.S. 41, Gibsonton and Northwest Transfer Station, 8001 W. Linebaugh Ave. Tampa.
County parks will reopen Saturday and athletic leagues also will resume play then. Conservation parks and preserves will remain closed until Monday. Boat ramps, except those in the conservation parks, reopen Saturday. The Pet Resource Center will reopen 10 a.m. to noon Saturday for appointments and walk-ups. The library staff is continuing to assess branches to determine public reopening.
Residents can visit HCPLC.org or follow @TampaHillsLib on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube for updates.
— C.T. Bowen
4:30 p.m.: A scene from Venice
VENICE — Roberta Reale came down to Venice Elementary School where she teaches music in hopes that the internet might be working. Reale struck out again. Without power, water or cell service, there was no way to see if her brother in North Port and her brother-in-law in Fort Myers were OK. And if her colleagues, some of whom were working at a nearby shelter, were alright.
”It’s like you’re cut off from what’s going on and everyone’s freaking out,” said Reale, 62. “I’ve been here for 20 years and this was quite a ride.” Along Venice Avenue in downtown Venice, trees were uprooted and blocked roads. Businesses’ signs were blown out and every other traffic light was broke. Onlookers like Reale came out to check on the Venice Theater. The storm walloped the theater’s roof.
”I was here for [Hurricane] Charley,” said Reale. “I think this was a lot worse.”
— Colleen Wright
4:25 p.m.: Power outages continue
As of 4 p.m., the number of Duke Energy customers without power in Pinellas County stood at 100,000; in Pasco there were roughly 5,000 without power. Tampa Electric Co. reported 236,000 customers without power in their coverage area, which includes Hillsborough County. Read more here.
— Dan Sullivan
4:20 p.m.: Little Manatee River and Alafia River expected to rise, officials warn about flooding
Residents living along the floodplains of the Little Manatee and Alafia rivers in Hillsborough County should watch out for flooding and evacuate if water is approaching their homes, county officials warned Thursday.If people can’t safely evacuate on their own, call 911.The Little Manatee River is expected to rise Thursday evening due to Hurricane Ian. The Alafia River is expected to rise Friday evening, according to a county news release.
— Sam Ogozalek
4:11 p.m.: More from Fort Myers Beach:
Along San Carlos Boulevard near Fort Myers Beach, Dana Pearson plucked lead sinkers from the pavement that had blown across the street during the storm. Her husband’s 65-foot boat was tossed like a toy into the nearby mangroves. Their poles were buried in the branches. Another captain Sean Adler, of Estero, walked around looking at the damage. He’s been a fishing guide for 15 years in the area, and lately, business had been excellent. But after Ian, he’s thinking about a move to Jupiter on Florida’s East Coast.
”The people aren’t going to come here,” he said. The Fort Myers area relies on hotels and beaches, which were decimated by the hurricane. Adler’s condo was still in good shape, he said, but he needed time to process what happened to the place he loved.”
Things aren’t adding up right now,” he said.
— Zachary T. Sampson
3:55 p.m.: Publix reopening select stores across Tampa Bay
Publix is reopening some stores around Tampa Bay early on Thursday after Hurricane Ian passed, spokesperson Hannah Herring said in a statement. The Lakeland-based grocer closed early on Tuesday, saying it expected to reopen on Friday. But after the region missed the brunt of Hurricane Ian, the grocer began opening select stores across Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Lake, Hernando, Manatee and Osceola Counties a day early.When checking the live status of stores on Publix’s tracker, many stores in Pinellas County were already open while a handful were still closed in Tampa as of 3:30 p.m Tuesday. Customers can check store status online at www.publix.com/storm.
— Bernadette Berdychowski
3:28 p.m.: Day-after photos show Tampa Bay was largely spared from Hurricane Ian
Aside from fallen trees and debris, some light structural damage and loss of power in many areas, the Tampa Bay region was spared from Hurricane Ian’s harshest winds and storm surge. See photos of what Tampa Bay looked like here.
2:58 p.m.: World Central Kitchen starts delivering meals to communities impacted by Hurricane Ian
Tampa Bay chefs and volunteers are pairing up with the relief organization, currently working out of Tampa’s Metropolitan Ministries’ commissary kitchen. Read the full story here.
— Helen Freund
2:23 p.m.: Tampa Bay area schools plan to reopen Monday
With the area having escaped Ian’s brunt, the district leaders said the primary barrier to any reopening would be power outages. Pinellas superintendent Kevin Hendrick said about 20% of Pinellas schools were without electricity on Thursday — including six that served as shelters and had to rely on backup generators.
Pasco also had some schools without power, but said in a statement that discussions with the local utilities were already started to make the needed repairs.
Hillsborough superintendent Addison Davis announced late Wednesday that schools would remain closed Friday to give staff time to get classrooms back in order.
“We will see you Monday,” the district tweeted.
All three districts reminded families and employees to keep an eye on social media, district websites and email and text alerts for any possible changes. Read the full story here.
— Jeffrey S. Solochek
2:18 p.m.: USF St Petersburg campus opens to the public tomorrow
2:17 p.m.: Tampa Mayor Jane Castor shares lessons learned
2:09 p.m.: Where to donate or volunteer to help Hurricane Ian victims
If you have been spared the wrath of Hurricane Ian, there are lots of opportunities to give your time or make donations to help others. We’ve compiled a lis of places to donate that you can see here.
— Sharon Kennedy Wynne and Kelly A. Stefani
2:00 p.m.: St. Petersburg police urge people not to go sightseeing
As Pinellas County residents who evacuated return home, officials are urging them to stay cautious on the roads. In social media posts Thursday morning, the St. Petersburg Police Department asked residents to “stay off the roads until city crews ... remove debris and @DukeEnergy can get to downed power line.”
”I think who we were referring to are people who are at home and don’t need to go out sightseeing,” police spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez clarified. “That’s a nonessential activity. If you had to evacuate to a shelter and you want to go back home, that’s a little different.”
A Pinellas County spokesperson said the county won’t dictate for what reasons a person should be on the road at this point, but that drivers should continue to be aware of and avoided downed trees, power lines and other obstacles.
— Jack Evans
1:53 p.m.: Port Tampa Bay reopens
Workers at Port Tampa Bay have opened the gates and roadways. Fuel terminal operators and trucks can now access the port, according to president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council Micheal Rubin.
— Olivia George
1:51 p.m.: Ambulances rush to help
1:50 p.m.: Hurricane Ian passes by Tampa Bay dropping heavy rain
1:34 p.m.: AdventHealth hospitals starting to get back to normal
AdventHealth hospitals in Hillsborough and Pasco counties have resumed normal operations, including regular visitation. Elective procedures and the opening of AdventHealth Medical Group and AdventHealth Centra Care locations will resume Friday.
AdventHealth Tampa will reopen outpatient services on Friday.
— Christopher O’Donnell
1:30 p.m.: Recovery in Pasco underway
Clean up and recovery operations are underway in Pasco County as Tropical Storm Ian makes its way out of the area. The county lifted its evacuation orders this morning and all emergency shelters, except the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter are closed. County offices will reopen Friday.
Animal Services will reopen at noon Friday, Sept. 30. Senior centers will reopen Monday. Go Pasco, the county’s public transportation system, is offering free, hourly service noon to 6 p.m. Thursday on Routes 19, 21 and 23.
Drivers should treat intersections without working traffic lights as a four-way stop. Earlier this morning traffic signals at State Road 52 and Shady Hills Road and the State Road 52 intersection with the northbound exit ramp of the Suncoast Parkway were not functioning.
Trash collection will resumes Friday. Tipping fees for storm debris are waived through Saturday, Oct. 8, at the West Pasco Resource Recovery Facility, 14606 Hays Road, Spring Hill and the East Pasco Transfer Station, 9626 Handcart Road, Dade City. Yard debris limited to 3 bags per household. The county also opened two sites to properly dispose of used sandbags, They are at Magnolia Valley Golf Course: 7223 Massachusetts Ave., New Port Richey and the Wesley Chapel District Park, 7727 Boyette Road, Wesley Chapel.
— C.T. Bowen
1:24 p.m.: Drone footage of Lee County
1:10 p.m.: Water returns to Tampa Bay
It was like a bathtub after somebody had pulled the plug.
Then, the water returned.
Thursday morning, water rushed back into the bay, climbing by nearly 4.5 feet, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The effect of the water being pulled from the bay is referred to as reverse storm surge. It’s something that was experienced during Hurricane Irma in 2017, too. Read the full story here.
— Lauren Peace and Ian Hodgson
1:06 p.m.: Skyway reopens
The Sunshine Skyway reopened Thursday shortly before 1 p.m., according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Troopers closed the bridge Wednesday morning when winds in the area from Hurricane Ian surpassed 40 mph. Read more here.
1:05 p.m.: Buccaneers to play in Tampa
1:03 p.m.: Hernando County end mandatory evacuation order Thursday morning
Hernando County ended its mandatory evacuation order Thursday morning allowing residents to return with caution to areas west of U.S. 19, manufactured homes and low-lying areas.
Hernando County Administrator Jeff Rogers said officials were still watching for the potential of flooding on the Withlacoochee River.Less than 3,000 Hernando residents were still without power Thursday morning, according to officials from the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative and Duke Energy. They reported repair crews have been dispatched to begin restoring power. Damage assessment inspectors have also been mobilized.
— Bernadette Berdychowski
12:56 p.m.: Scenes from Hillsborough County
12:47 p.m.: Hurricane Ian claims the Dali Museum’s Wish Tree in St. Petersburg
fter nearly 11 years and over 20,000 wishes, the Dalí Museum’s beloved Wish Tree is no more.
The museum has power and both the staff and the artwork are safe, said marketing director Beth Bell.
The Florida ficus, however, was ripped from the Dalí's Avant-garden before the worst of Hurricane Ian’s winds and rains reached St. Petersburg on Wednesday. Read the full story here.
— Gabrielle Calise
12:37 p.m.: Roughly 43 nursing homes evacuated residents
At least 15 to 20 nursing homes in Lee, Collier and Charlotte Counties have lost power due to Hurricane Ian, according to a spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents 80% of nursing homes statewide.
All of them have working backup generators onsite, according to spokesperson Kristen Knapp. Several facilities that lost power have already evacuated residents to sister locations in other parts of the state. In total, about 43 Florida nursing homes have evacuated residents, according to a review the industry group conducted, on behalf of the Times, of the Agency for Health Care Administration’s Health Facility Reporting System, which was last updated at 8 a.m. Roughly 3400 older adults have been moved to other long-term care facilities or hospitals. About 115 assisted living facilities have evacuated, transferring about 4300 residents, Knapp said.
The industry group is working to reach other nursing homes in the area that were hard-hit by the storm.
”We’re not hearing of a lot of significant challenges, which is good,” Knapp said. “For those who had to evacuate, we’re just checking in to make sure they’re implementing as many normal routines for residents as they can.”
— Hannah Critchfield
12:32 p.m.: In Pinellas beach towns, a sense of relief
Pinellas County’s barrier islands were mostly quiet Thursday morning as a few people assessed the damage post-Ian. About an hour after Pinellas sheriff’s deputies reopened access to islands, a man walked his dog in Indian Shores.
Among the damage was a downed wire, some fallen signs, a very shredded but still standing American flag and a toppled light pole in a Winn Dixie parking lot. The consensus: the damage was not nearly as bad as that caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
”The winds were much more intense during Hurricane Irma, and this storm, fortunately, the winds weren’t as severe,” said Deputy Chuck Skipper.
— Natalie Weber
12:30 p.m.: TECO says power outages could last ‘a couple of days’
At an 11:30 a.m. news conference Thursday, Tampa Electric Co. CEO Archie Collins told reporters he thinks “it’s going to be at least a couple of days” before the utility can restore power to all customers reporting outages. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor also said there wasn’t significant flooding or storm surge in the city. She wasn’t aware of any storm-related fatalities in Tampa.
The area was fortunate, said Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Barbara Tripp.
”We are doing all that we can to keep the Bucs game here,” Castor said. “I’ve assured the NFL that the only wrath that we will see in the city of Tampa on Sunday is what the Bucs bring down on K.C.”
— Sam Ogozalek
12:25 p.m.: See images of Ian’s devastation
Ian’s impact can be seen in photos by photographer Douglas R. Clifford here.
12:15 p.m.: Hurricane Ian damages St. Pete Beach hotel
12:12 p.m. ‘Absolute devastation’ at Fort Myers Beach
FORT MYERS BEACH — Blown-out homes blocked side streets, each an eruption of soggy wood and metal. Sand covered the main drag, Estero Boulevard, as if hurling the barrier island back in time.
Beer bottles and kegs spilled out from shattered bars like confetti, and Winds — the beach souvenir shack near the northern edge of town — was a husk. Ian blew out all the windows, and most of the tile inside, too. Soaked neon swimsuits, hats and sunset-colored T-shirts lay in a wet curl around the building.
Emergency officials expect to find bodies in the rubble, said Jennifer Campbell, the local fire marshal. They know people did not all heed the evacuation orders, which began Monday. Campbell walked through town with a colleague Thursday, surveying the damage and shutting off gas lines.
“Absolute devastation,” she said. “There’s barely anything left.”
— Zachary T. Sampson
Across Tampa and north Pinellas County, people were working to clear trees downed in yards and businesses Thursday morning.
Both of Tampa Bay’s international airports will reopen Friday after shuttering during Hurricane Ian, the airports announced Thursday morning.
Tampa International Airport, which ceased commercial flights at 5 p.m. Tuesday, will reopen commercial operations 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30. Parking facilities, the rental car center and Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints will be open to serve departing passengers who arrive early for their flights.
St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport did not specify an opening time but said the airport terminal and parking lots would resume service Friday morning. Hurricane Ian caused “no significant damage” to the facilities, according to spokesperson Michele Routh. The airport terminal building closed at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
— Olivia George
Cleanup and recovery operations are underway in Pasco County, which lifted its evacuation orders this morning, and closed all emergency shelters except the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter.
County offices and Animal Services will reopen Friday. Senior centers will reopen Monday. Trash collection will resume on Friday.
Tipping fees for storm debris are waived through Oct. 8 at the West Pasco Resource Recovery Facility, 14606 Hays Road, Spring Hill and the East Pasco Transfer Station, 9626 Handcart Road, Dade City. Yard debris is limited to three bags per household. The county also opened two sites to properly dispose of used sandbags: Magnolia Valley Golf Course at 7223 Massachusetts Ave. in New Port Richey, and Wesley Chapel District Park, 7727 Boyette Road in Wesley Chapel.
GoPasco, the county’s public transportation system, is offering free, hourly service from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday on Routes 19, 21 and 23.
— C.T. Bowen
Hillsborough County announced that it has lifted its evacuation orders for Hurricane Ian, meaning residents who left can return home.
The county had issued mandatory evacuation orders earlier this week for almost 400,000 residents in evacuation zones A and B and those living in mobile homes.
The county also said it plans to close its shelters, though it didn’t give an exact time. The county said more than 8,000 people sought refuge at 47 shelters during the storm.
— Sam Ogozalek
One-third of customers in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties lost power during Hurricane Ian. On Thursday morning, power was slowly being restored to more than a half-million customers across the Tampa Bay area. Read more here.
— Dan Sullivan
Publix Super Markets Charities announced Thursday it will donate a total of $1 million to nonprofits like the American Red Cross and United Way to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Ian.
The Lakeland-based grocer also said it will start letting customers donate any amount at checkout to go toward communities affected by the major storm beginning Friday. Publix closed early across Tampa Bay on Tuesday ahead of the storm and is currently set to reopen Friday morning. Customers can check the status of their local store online.
— Bernadette Berdychowski
During a news conference Thursday morning, Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise said the area was “very fortunate” with Hurricane Ian: “We were lucky once again.”
”We haven’t had one loss of life as a result of this storm,” Sheriff Chad Chronister added.
Emergency Management Director Tim Dudley said the storm damage was minimal in evacuated zones, though sporadic strong wings are expected throughout the morning. Power is still out in some parts of the county, he said.
MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa remains closed, Dudley said. It’s assessing damage and will announce when it’s safe to return.
Northwest Hillsborough County received an inch of rain from the storm Wednesday, while the southeastern corner of the county got 12 inches, Dudley said.
There may be flooding Friday morning along the Little Manatee River and the Alafia River, he said.
”Today is a great day, compared to what we were anticipating,” County Commission Chairperson Kimberly Overman said. “We are so lucky and so thankful that we were spared the worst of this most incredible event.”
— Sam Ogozalek
Out at the South Pinellas beaches, locals emerged Thursday morning to survey the damage Hurricane Ian had left. Trees, limbs and cables were down, and some buildings were damaged, but early on, the destruction didn’t appear too severe.
The NFL has considered moving the Buccaneers’ home game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday to Minneapolis due to potential issues in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, though, took to Twitter Thursday morning to assure the league that wouldn’t be necessary, and that “the only disturbance here Sunday is when the Bucs kick ass.”
St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport has “no significant damage,” according to a Thursday morning press release. The airport terminal and parking lots will reopen Friday morning, according to spokesperson Michele Routh.
— Olivia George
There were no reported injuries from Hurricane Ian to anyone incarcerated in or working at Florida prisons, according to a Thursday morning update from the Florida Department of Corrections.
The department said damage assessments are ongoing, and that phone lines, tablets and kiosks may not be functional because of power outages.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he heard there were no “major issues” in the facilities on Ian’s path, beyond some rain and water in the facilities from roof issues.
As of Wednesday evening, the department said 2,500 inmates were evacuated, primarily from work camps and work release centers, and moved to the main facilities instead.
Charlotte CI, a correctional facility in Punta Gorda, was not evacuated, according to the state. The prison is in an evacuation zone D, and Charlotte County ordered mandatory evacuations for zones A and B.
— Romy Ellenbogen
At the St. Pete Pier, residents walked in a daze, or even resumed their morning run schedules. People inspected their boats at the neighboring marina, most of which looked unharmed. At Vinoy Park, downed branches and a destroyed lamppost didn’t deter people from enjoying the blustery 70-degree day brought by the storm and, like any other day, delighting in the manatee snouts taking quick inhales above the water in Tampa Bay.
— Emily L. Mahoney
Line crews are working to restore power in Pinellas County, where some 187,000 customers are still without power as of 10:40 a.m., according to Duke Energy.
The city of Largo announced its recreation facilities will remain closed on Friday for cleanup efforts, but will reopen with regular hours on Saturday. Those facilities include the Highland Recreation Complex, Southwest Recreation Complex, Southwest Pool, Largo Community Center, McGough Nature Center, Central Park Performing Arts Center and Largo Golf Course. Classes and child care at any of those facilities are canceled for Friday.
Along St. Petersburg’s main east-west arteries, traffic lights had gone out at key intersections as of 10 a.m.: First Ave. N and Eighth St.; First Avenue N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St.; First Avenue N and S at 16th Street near Tropicana Field; First Ave. N and S near 20th Street; and First Ave. N and S at 31st Street.
At First Ave N and 34th Street, an outed traffic light had wary drivers treating the intersection like a stop sign. Police directed traffic at 16th street, but otherwise, drivers were on their own.
— Kirby Wilson
Pasco County is lifting its evacuation order and beginning to shut down emergency shelters as of 10 a.m. Crews across the county are working to remove debris and fallen limbs from roadways.
— C.T. Bowen
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday said hundreds of people in Southwest Florida have called authorities for help as Hurricane Ian wreaked havoc, and that the state is trying to confirm whether two people died in the storm.
State officials are trying to confirm whether those deaths were “linked to the storm.” But DeSantis said, “our assumption is that it likely is.”
The governor said reports of numbers of fatalities were unconfirmed.
DeSantis said several people on the barrier islands of Lee and Charlotte counties were rescued by helicopter early Thursday morning. The area experienced “massive inundation,” he said. Rescues are also underway in low-lying areas along the Collier County coast and even inland, in areas such as Fort Myers, he said.
“We are hoping that they can be rescued at this point,” DeSantis said at a press briefing in Tallahassee at the state’s emergency operations center.
— Ana Ceballos
The CEO of a Clearwater marketing agency has apologized after downplaying the potential impact of Hurricane Ian and encouraging staff to bring their pets and kids in the office so they wouldn’t miss work.
Only after outrage spread on social media on Tuesday did Joy Gendusa, the head of PostcardMania, announce it would close its headquarters for Wednesday and Thursday to turn it into a hurricane shelter for employees instead. The company is known for using a business management system tied to the Church of Scientology, also based in Clearwater.
“As we’ve grown to over 350 staff, we’re now to the size where I don’t know every one of you personally. The text message that was sent Monday morning treated you all as my friends rather than those looking for leadership during a stressful time, and I understand now that that casualness may have come across to those that don’t know me personally as insensitive to your safety — which was never my intention,” Gendusa said in an email to employees.
— Tracey McManus and Bernadette Berdychowski
Early looks at the beaches of middle and north Pinellas County show minimal damage beyond lots of debris.
At the Dolphin Reef condominium in Indian Rocks Beach, Bruce Myers spent two days preparing for Hurricane Ian — pool closed, outside furniture removed, sandbags at each unit, shut down pool. Afterward, the building showed no real damage, just fallen palm fronds.
“We lucked out,” he said.
St. Petersburg residents emerged from their homes, many of them dark Thursday morning, to find the Grand Central neighborhood mostly spared.
Tree branches littered the streets and sidewalks, and power outages stretched for many blocks, but the fine glassware sitting in a vintage shop glistened in the window, untouched.
Pedestrians, drivers and cyclists surveyed the street in the morning, many of them stopping at the Discount Food Mart, a corner store that was as one of the few open, to get their caffeine fix with coffee or Diet Cokes.
”We got lucky,” said Darryl Gibbons, 59, a lifelong St. Pete resident who had been following the forecast in the days before Ian made its turn away from Tampa Bay.
“It’s spiritual,” he added, referencing a local legend of Indian mounds offering protection from hurricanes. “I strongly believe that, because most storms get to us and they shift. It’s not luck, it was God.”
— Emily L. Mahoney
Homes in neighborhoods around downtown St. Petersburg are looking at huge trees knocked over in yards Thursday morning.
Hillsborough County has lifted its evacuation orders. The county says it sheltered over 8,000 people in 47 locations during the storm, according to a news release this morning. It plans to wind down its shelter operations today so it’s encouraging residents with damaged homes to stay with family or friends.
At a 9 a.m. news conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed back on a Lee County sheriff’s estimate that “fatalities are in the hundreds” from Hurricane Ian in Southwest Florida.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Mancelo made that initial assessment on “Good Morning America.” DeSantis said that a number of people have been helicoptered to safety from southwest Florida’s barrier islands, but it was too early to count fatalities.
“We have had two unconfirmed fatalities, in the sense that we don’t know that they’re linked to the storm,” DeSantis said. “Our assumption is it likely is. And so FDLE will make that assessment, and then that will be reported. So that’s what we have.
“That number that was put out by Lee is basically an estimate of, ‘Hey, these people were calling, the water was rising on their home, they may not have ended up getting through.’ So we’re obviously hoping that they can be rescued at this point.”
The city of Tampa in a 9 a.m. news release reported the following damage from Hurricane Ian: 206 power wires down, 143 trees or limbs down, 139 traffic lights out and 59 “street obstructions.”
Tampa is “working as quickly as possible to (remove) downed trees from the roads and those wrapped in power lines receive first priority for our response teams,” Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement.
She added that Tampa is sending resources to Southwest Florida.
— Sam Ogozalek
About six ships had to divert from Port Tampa Bay as a result of Hurricane Ian, according to a port spokesperson.
Lisa Wolf-Chason said the port had about 10 to 12 barges and dry-docked ships that were allowed to stay at the port during the storm. She said fuel trucks were able to fuel up into Tuesday evening, but not Wednesday. She said it was unclear how the reverse storm surge, which drained portions of Tampa Bay, affected the port, but the U.S. Coast Guard would be conducting a full survey on Thursday.
The Carnival Paradise cruise ship, which had been slated to return to Port Tampa Bay today, extended its stay in Cozumel and began heading this way on Wednesday. Another Paradise cruise scheduled to depart from Tampa today has been canceled.
A tree at the corner of Morrison Avenue and Delaware Avenue near Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa was felled by Hurricane Ian. Homeowner Janna Walker said the tree was slated to come down next month anyway, but Ian got it first.
— Matt Cohen
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister urged residents to stay off county roads on Thursday morning.
“Yes, the rain may have stopped, the winds have subsided down around 30 miles per hour, but it’s still not safe to drive out on the roadways. We have a lot of downed trees, a lot of power lines. Please stay safe, ill continue to stay hunkered down.”
As the sun rose on St. Petersburg, residents could get their first looks at downed trees and street signs and other damaged structures around the city.
Tampa International Airport said it was communicating with local and federal authorities about when it can safely reopen, and tweeted that it hopes to have an update “later today.”
After closing on Tuesday, the airport said it would stay closed through at least part of Thursday.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies examining damage along the beaches found a few downed power lines early Thursday. Fallen trees, shingles blown off a convenience store roof, and a sign blown down at the Two Mermaids Resort were also among the damage. See.
Pinellas County residents who evacuated from their homes under county order in anticipation of Hurricane Ian can return Thursday morning.
The county announced it would lift evacuation orders — issued earlier this week for residents in zones A, B and C, and for mobile and manufactured homes — effective 9 a.m. Thursday.
— Jack Evans
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told “Good Morning America” that he expects “hundreds” of fatalities from Hurricane Ian.
“While I don’t have confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds,” Marceno said. “There are thousands of people that are waiting to be rescued.”
Marceno said he “cannot give a true assessment until we’re actually on scene assessing each scene. And we can’t access people; that’s the problem. We’re accessing the bridges, we’re seeing what’s compromised and what’s not. And this will be a life-changing event for the men and women that are responding. They’re going to see things they’ve never seen before.”
“Fatalities in the hundreds?” George Stephanopoulos asked.
“So far, confirmed, in the hundreds, meaning that we are responding to events, drownings,” Marceno said. “Again, unsure of the exact details, because we are just starting to scratch the surface on this assessment. We’re doing everything that we possibly can ... to protect and to serve lives, and we are in full force doing that.”
The Sunshine Skyway bridge remained closed Thursday morning due to trees and debris blocking the span, the Florida Highway Patrol said in a tweet sent at 7:48 a.m.
— Tony Marrero
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it is sending members of its marine and environmental lands unit to help out down south in Charlotte County after that county got walloped by Ian.
The sheriff’s office also announced it was reopening its main administration building at 10750 Ulmerton Road in Largo, and is also reopening fingerprinting services at 4645 145th Ave N in Clearwater and the property and evidence office at 4707 145th Ave N in Clearwater.
The Wish Tree at the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg has been toppled by Hurricane Ian.
This also happened during Hurricane Irma in 2017, when the Florida ficus tilted over due to high winds. Dalí visitors decorate the tree with their colorful admission bands, on which they write down dreams.
President Joe Biden on Thursday signed a major disaster declaration for Florida, which allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate aid for the counties most affected by Hurricane Ian. Gov. Ron DeSantis had asked Biden on Wednesday to make the major disaster declaration, broadening it from the earlier disaster declaration Biden had signed. DeSantis, in his letter to Biden, asked FEMA for a 100% cost share for debris removal and other emergency measures in the next 60 days.
— Romy Ellenbogen
The storm is causing Tampa Bay’s professional sports teams to shuffle their plans, and it may not be done yet.
The NFL is weighing whether the Buccaneers will be able to keep their home date against the Kansas City Chiefs. That game could be played at Raymond James Stadium or moved to Minneapolis.
“It’s literally a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour consideration and conversation with all the affected parties, state and local authorities, disaster relief agencies and the participating clubs, as well as the Vikings,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL senior vice president for health and safety.
The Rays, currently on the road in Cleveland, are awaiting reports on their year-round training facility in Port Charlotte, near where Ian hit the Gulf Coast. Team officials didn’t have any information as of Wednesday night on damage to the training facility, noting the security camera system had been knocked out.
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder, whose parents were riding out the storm in their Sarasota-area homes, said there was reason to be worried.
“I’m a Florida resident and long term; we’ve never experienced anything like this,” Snyder said. “Obviously our thoughts and prayers are out to the people south of (the Tampa Bay area). Certainly thinking about a lot of the people that live in and around Port Charlotte that are Tampa Bay Rays long-term employees, and a lot of their family and friends.’’
And travel issues have forced the Rowdies to move their road game against Monterey Bay FC from Saturday to Sunday. It will stream at 10 p.m. on ESPN+.
Hurricane Ian’s damage in St. Petersburg does not appear too significant at this point, city officials said just before daybreak.
The city has lost 79 traffic signals throughout the city, and generators, stop signs and police officers are en route to those intersections, St. Petersburg Police spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez said. Numerous trees and power lines are down, and teams are heading out soon to remove limbs and other tree debris from roadways and ensure access to hospitals.
Fire rescue teams responded to one house fire at 116 Seventh Ave. NE that was put out in 13 minutes with minor damage and no injuries. A downed power line set fire to a tree, and it was swiftly contained.
Police have no reports of looting just yet, Fernandez said. The agency is asking people to stay off the roads as crews clear power lines and debris.
Schools across Florida became shelters during Hurricane Ian. When will they resume classes? “Let’s get through the storm,” Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning said. “Then we will assess the damage and determine when it’s safe to reopen.”
— Jeffrey S. Solochek
Public access to Pinellas County’s barrier islands has been restored, the Pinellas County Sherriff’s Office said early Thursday. People don’t need a reentry pass to get to the beaches.
Law enforcement agencies across Tampa Bay have begun posting videos and images of Hurricane Ian’s devastation.
Just after midnight, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office posted a video of wires down.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office posted footage of downed trees and power lines, adding that it looked like most of the damage was south of Venice Avenue.
In Port Charlotte, the storm surge flooded a lower-level emergency room in HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital even as fierce winds ripped away part of the roof from its intensive care unit, according to the Associated Press.
Water gushed down onto the ICU, forcing staff to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients — some of whom were on ventilators — to other floors, said Dr. Birgit Bodine. Staff members used towels and plastic bins to try to mop up the sodden mess.
The medium-sized hospital spans four floors, but patients were forced into just two because of the damage. Bodine planned to spend the night there in case people injured from the storm arrive needing help.
“As long as our patients do OK and nobody ends up dying or having a bad outcome, that’s what matters,” Bodine said.
Nearly 509,000 Tampa Bay customers were without power as of 4 a.m. Thursday, according to Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Co. Across Florida, more than 2 million people had no electricity.
Duke Energy reported 190,984 customers without power in Pinellas County and another 25,945 in Pasco. That’s about 34% of company’s customers in Pinellas and about 16% of its customers in Pasco.
Tampa Electric Co. reported more than 291,620 customers without power in their coverage area, which includes Hillsborough County. That is roughly 36% of TECO’s customers.
— Dan Sullivan, Matt Cohen and Chris Tisch
While local emergency officials say they believe the “vast majority” of the nearly 2.5 million people in evacuation zones along the path of Hurricane Ian heeded warnings and left, some residents chose to stay — including 31 people on an unidentified barrier island in Charlotte County.
“They just said that they wanted to stay in, shelter in place,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was told by Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell, despite warnings from state and local officials that “you’re risking potentially your life by staying.”
“The local officials were not going to grab them by the shirt collar and drag them out of their own house,” DeSantis said at a Wednesday briefing at the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee, just hours before the eye of the storm was expected to make landfall.
— Mary Ellen Klas
Crews in St. Petersburg and elsewhere are expected to begin to assess damage at daybreak Thursday.
Southwest Florida appeared to get the brunt of the storm’s effects Wednesday. Downtown Fort Myers was badly flooded overnight and a section of the Sanibel Causeway was wiped out by the powerful storm.
Continue to track the hurricane’s path with live satellite images and live video here.
The National Hurricane Center has downgraded Ian to a tropical storm, with sustained winds of 65 miles per hour, as it travels northeast about 35 miles southwest of Cape Canaveral.
Tampa Bay remains under a tropical storm warning, but is no longer under a storm surge warning — although a surge of 1 to 3 feet is expected here. A storm surge warning is still in effect from about Longboat Key to Flamingo, including Charlotte Harbor. Portions of the east coast, from Boca Raton to Cape Lookout, N.C., are still under a tropical storm warning, and there’s a hurricane warning in place from Flagler County up into South Carolina.
The storm is expected to take a turn to the north-northeast today, crossing the Carolinas on Friday.
Tampa Bay Times reporter Zachary T. Sampson and photojournalist Douglas R. Clifford left their hotel room in Fort Myers late Wednesday night and have been searching the area and assessing the damage from Hurricane Ian for hours.
Their latest find is jaw-dropping: A section of the causeway leading to Sanibel is gone, wiped out by the powerful Category 4 storm.
Another part of the road is folded up like an accordion and ripped to ribbons by the powerful storm.
You can read their dispatches here.
• • •
2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
WHEN THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
WHAT TO DO IF HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.
IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.
• • •
Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change
INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.