Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday evening it was “crunch time” as Hurricane Idalia prepared to wallop North Florida’s Big Bend region with damaging winds and massive storm surge.
“You really got to go back to the late 1800s to find a storm of this magnitude that will enter (the state) where this one looks like it’s going to enter tomorrow,” DeSantis said during a 6 p.m. news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center. “We don’t really have a historical analog in anybody’s memory, so it’s likely to cause a lot of damage. And that’s just the reality, so be prepared for that. Be prepared to lose power, and just know that there’s a lot of folks who are going to be there to help you get back on your feet.”
Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Southwest Florida was experiencing storm surge as Idalia moved through the Gulf of Mexico. Guthrie emphasized a need for people to follow directions about evacuating and said coastal areas of the Big Bend could get 10 to 15 feet of storm surge.
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“We are going to experience historical flood surge up into the Big Bend area,” Guthrie said. “This is nothing to be messing around with.”
With Idalia expected to make landfall Wednesday morning as a Category 3 storm, the projected path shifted west Tuesday toward the Tallahassee area. Counties that could be in the path include Leon, Jefferson, Wakulla and Taylor.
“We are hoping that we get a little bit of the soft side of it, but right now it’s moving a little bit toward us,” Stanley West, owner of the Riverside Cafe in St. Marks in Wakulla County, said earlier Tuesday. “So, we are getting a little bit more ready. We are not going to take our chances. We are going to pick up what we can and put it away and hope for the best.”
West also said that if “we get a head-on, there’s probably not a lot that we are going to be able to do other than just come back and rebuild.”
About 5,500 Florida National Guard members had been deployed Tuesday to help after the storm hits, and utility crews were coming in from other states to assist with restoring power.
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Duke Energy Florida, which provides electricity in many areas that could be hard-hit, said it had more than 5,000 people ready to respond to outages.
“Duke Energy crews and additional workers from across the country are staged throughout Florida’s service territory,” Todd Fountain, Duke Energy Florida storm director, said in a statement. “We appreciate the assistance from our contractor partners who will help speed power restoration, as soon as weather conditions safely allow.”
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