The storm, already a CAT 4, could be upgraded to CAT 5 today. Its winds are currently at 155 mph, just two mph less than the 157 that would make it a CAT 5. Coming late in what has been a quiet hurricane season, Gov. Ron DeSantis says even as a CAT 4, the storm will bring widespread destruction and record amounts of rain.
The hurricane has prompted warnings of dangerous storm surge along the state’s heavily populated Gulf Coast from Bonita Beach to the Tampa Bay region. Hotels along the coast have been evacuated residents told to move inland.
With days notice, Florida residents rushed to board up their homes, stash precious belongings on upper floors and flee.
At least 2.5 million Florida residents were ordered to evacuate in anticipation of a powerful storm surge, high winds and flooding rains. The hurricane center predicted Ian would roar ashore on Florida’s southwest coast on Wednesday afternoon.
Winds exceeding tropical-storm strength of 39 mph (63 kph) reached Florida by 3 a.m. and hurricane-force winds were expected in Florida well in advance of the eyewall moving inland, the Miami-based center said.
“It is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in,” DeSantis said in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 in the storm’s projected path. He warned at a news conference: “This the kind of storm surge that is life threatening.”
Ian’s forward movement slowed over the Gulf, enabling the hurricane to grow wider and stronger. A hurricane warning covering roughly 220 miles (350 kilometers) of the state included Fort Myers as well as Tampa and St. Petersburg, which could get their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
Forecasters said the storm surge could reach 12 feet (3.6 meters) if it peaks at high tide. Rainfall near the area of landfall could top 18 inches (46 centimeters).
Relief organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse and the Red Cross are already on the move.
Samaritan’s Purse, headed by Franklin Graham, is still on the ground in Puerto Rico which was devastated by Hurricane Fiona. The storm, which was a CAT 1, destroyed much of the U.S. territory’s infrastructure not with wind, but with water. Some area’s saw upwards of 30 inches of rain.
On Wednesday, Samaritan was already preparing planes and organizing volunteers and staff to go into the state. That’s in addition to an extensive network of Florida volunteers already in place and ready to move.
The Red Cross is also mobilizing with volunteers on standby to head to the state.
Andrew Loeb, from Western New York, is ready to go.
“Maybe it’s just sort of part of my DNA. I just feel you have to help,” Loeb told a New York television station..
“It probably is scary, but I don’t think of it that way. I just think of the need that the people have.”
Loeb is one of a group of four that is planning to fly down.
“I don’t like to see bad things happen to good people,” he said of his decision.
“If there’s something that you can do to help them, then you know what why not?”
Loeb and the Red Cross aren’t the only Western New York organization lending a hand.
Red Cross chapters from other areas of the nation are also ready to go.
American Red Cross volunteers in San Diego are monitoring the storm and preparing to deploy to Florida
“We are always on standby at all times,” Jane Scanlon, American Red Cross volunteer told CBS 8.
Scanlon has been an American Red Cross volunteer for 12 years and is the San Diego chapter lead shelter person.
Scanlon says with hurricane’s you can plan ahead but it’s still in constant flux.
“Sometimes they are mobile moving up and down the coast as the hurricane is moving so they have open shelters. They’ve set up cots, they’re ready to go. They’ve got their staff already to go,” she said.
Officials with Samaritan’s Purse say their response to Florida will not take away from the work they are still doing in parts of eastern Kentucky which was hit hard by flooding over the summer.
–Dwight Widaman and wire services