The strong winds and torrential rains of Hurricane Ian began to hit the Gulf Coast of Florida on Wednesday, September 28. Strengthened at Category 4, just shy of the Saffir Simpson scale’s maximum of 5, the phenomenon is nearing landfall along the state’s southwestern coast. The National Hurricane Center warned that “catastrophic” damage is expected from powerful air currents.
After causing considerable damage and a total blackout in Cuba, the US state of Florida is the next stop for Hurricane Ian.
The phenomenon rapidly intensified as it approached landfall along the southwestern coast of Florida on Wednesday, September 28, with maximum winds of 250 km / h, which place it in category 4, just below the maximum. 5, the most dangerous level.
Damaging winds and rain are already battering the southern state. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) indicated that it is “extremely dangerous”, although it noted that it is expected to weaken somewhat after it makes landfall.
“The storm is here (…) Stay inside. Stay away from the windows,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said at a news conference.
According to weather forecasts, the massive storm appears to be on its way to hitting the coast north of Fort Myers and about 125 miles south of Tampa.
Ian is expected to make landfall in southwestern Florida in the next few hours as a catastrophic hurricane.
“Time is running out for residents to rush to complete preparations on the Southwest Florida panhandle as Hurricane Ian approaches. Tropical storm force winds are already beginning to affect the coast. Conditions will rapidly deteriorate and catastrophic wind damage is expected,” the United States National Hurricane Center warned in recent hours, through its Twitter account.
Forecasters say the densely populated area of Fort Myers could be inundated by a storm surge of up to 5.5 meters.
“This is going to be a nasty day, or maybe two days,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, emphasizing that people in Ian’s path, along the coast, should run to the safest shelter possible and stay there.
Time is quickly running out for residents to rush preparations to completion on the southwestern Florida peninsula as Hurricane #Ian nears.
Tropical-Storm-Force winds already beginning to affect coast. Conditions will rapidly deteriorate & catastrophic wind damage is expected. pic.twitter.com/eHhEwPNLoY
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 28, 2022
The service added that flash flooding is likely to occur across the state. Hazards include the contaminated remnants of Florida’s phosphate fertilizer mining industry, more than 1 billion tons of slightly radioactive waste contained in huge ponds that could overflow due to heavy rains.
Parts of Florida’s east coast also face a storm surge threat, and isolated tornadoes have broken out well before Ian makes landfall. In fact, a typhoon damaged small planes and a hangar at North Perry Airport, west of the city of Hollywood along the Atlantic coast.
Catastrophic storm surge could bring 12 to 18 feet of water over a nearly 100-mile stretch of coastline, from Bonita Beach north through Fort Myers and Charlotte Harbor to Englewood. Rainfall near the landfall area could exceed 18 inches, the center warned.
More than 7,000 National Guard soldiers deployed and 2.5 million evacuation orders
Faced with Ian’s imminent impact, authorities and residents brace themselves.
More than 2.5 million people received mandatory evacuation orders, but by law no one can be forced to flee, so the state government is calling on citizens to take action.
DeSantis said the state has 30,000 power line repair experts, urban search and rescue teams and 7,000 soldiers from the Florida National Guard and elsewhere ready to help once the hurricane passes.
“It is time to shelter up and prepare for the storm (…) Do what you have to do to stay safe. If they are where the storm is coming, they are already in dangerous conditions. It is going to get much worse very quickly,” warned the political leader.
Florida Power and Light, the state’s largest electric utility, warned those in Ian’s path to prepare for a few days without power.
As a precaution, hundreds of residents were evacuated from several Tampa-area nursing homes, where hospitals also moved some patients.
Parts of Georgia and South Carolina could also see torrential rain and some coastal storm surge through next Saturday, October 1. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp preemptively declared an emergency and ordered 500 National Guard soldiers to prepare to respond as needed.
Before turning toward Florida, Ian slammed into Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province with sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph), wreaking havoc in the island’s tobacco belt. Cuban authorities confirmed two deaths.
With Reuters and AP