With more than 2 million people along the Gulf Coast urged to evacuate in advance of Hurricane Ian, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday said residents should expect a major hit that could bring historic storm surge Wednesday.
“This is not necessarily saying you have to evacuate to another state. It’s not saying you have to go to Miami,” DeSantis said as residents in areas from Pasco County to Collier County have been advised to seek shelter on higher ground.
“All those counties have shelters within their counties,” DeSantis told reporters at the state Emergency Operations Center. “The instruction is, you’re in a vulnerable area to storm surge or flooding, evacuate to higher ground.”
Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said the center of the wide-ranging system was forecast to hit Wednesday near Venice in Sarasota County, about an hour south of St. Petersburg, with 125 mph sustained winds. The storm Tuesday morning was pounding Cuba.
Still, as Ian’s track shifted east from earlier forecasts, the storm’s center could “wobble,” causing changes in its path.
Power outages are expected across the state in the coming days. Utilities have more than 28,000 workers on standby, including crews coming from other states.
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue said seaports across the state have adequate fuel supplies and are positioned to quickly reinstate operations.
Meanwhile, highway shoulders have been cleared in case they are needed to increase the flow of traffic for evacuations.
“We have teams monitoring traffic levels along critical corridors to ensure safe and efficient flow of traffic,” Perdue said. “We’ve also increased our resources in terms of FDOT Road Rangers and motorist assistance to aid in evacuations.”
The state has activated 5,000 members of the Florida National Guard, and another 2,000 guard members from other states are on standby.
With a state of emergency in place for all 67 counties, 26 school districts had closed.
Ian was expected to spend only a few hours Tuesday over western Cuba before growing in strength as it emerges in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, where warm water and generally low vertical wind shear are expected.
Saying preparations for the storm “should be rushed to completion,” the National Hurricane Center on Tuesday warned of life-threatening storm surge along much of the Gulf Coast, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region.
Hurricane-force winds are forecast in west-central Florida beginning Wednesday morning.
Heavy rains are expected to increase across the Florida Keys and South Florida on Tuesday, spreading Wednesday and Thursday into Central and North Florida.
The storm is expected to cause flash flooding, urban flooding, and small-stream flooding from Central Florida into southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.