Hurricane Ian strengthened into an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm and roared to the brink of Category 5 status, its maximum sustained winds blasting at 155 mph as the west coast of Florida braced for landfall Wednesday afternoon.
“It is going to have major, major impacts in terms of wind, in terms of rain, in terms of flooding,” Gov. Ron DeSantis warned in a briefing Wednesday. “So this is going to be a nasty, nasty day, two days.”
More than 100,000 homes and businesses in South Florida were already dark early Wednesday, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us. Power outages should be expected statewide, Florida Power & Light warned.
AccuWeather forecasters predicted landfall just northwest of Fort Myers, between Don Pedro Island and Boca Grande, around 4 pm It will slam much of the state with life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic winds and flooding, the National Hurricane Center said. At 7 am, the center of Ian was located 65 miles west-southwest of Naples.
“We are now forecasting a catastrophic storm surge of 12 to 16 feet from Englewood to Bonita Beach,” the hurricane center advisory warned.
Ian’s stunning wind speeds were within 2 mph of Category 5, the highest status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
•Hurricane tracker: Where is Ian headed? See the map.
• Do you need to evacuate? How to stay safe as Ian approaches.
•Forecast: Ian likely to spend days dumping rain on Florida. here’s the outlook.
Tornadoes were also a risk. Twisters were possible through Wednesday night across central and south Florida, the hurricane center said. CBS4-TV reported that at least 10 mobile homes were damaged by a possible tornado Tuesday in Davie, a Broward County city of 110,000 people 25 miles north of Miami. Another possible tornado was also reported in Broward County.
Heavy rainfall will spread across the Florida peninsula through Thursday. Widespread, prolonged major and record river flooding is expected across central Florida, the weather service said. The water woes will reach portions of the Southeast US later this week and this weekend.
“Widespread, life-threatening catastrophic flooding is expected across portions of central Florida with considerable flooding in southern Florida, northern Florida, southeastern Georgia and coastal South Carolina,” the service said in an advisory.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency order for the entire state and said up to 500 National Guard troops were preparing to be called up if needed.
WHAT IS THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON HURRICANE WIND SPEED SCALE?Breaking down the hurricane category scale
Cuba remained in the dark early Wednesday after Hurricane Ian knocked out its power grid and devastated homes, businesses and valuable tobacco farms when it hit the island’s western tip Tuesday as a Category 3 storm. Authorities were working to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people, Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement.
“The damage is great, although it has not yet been possible to account for it. Aid is already pouring in from all over the country,” Cuban President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez said on Twitter. “Rest assured that we will recover.”
Airports in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Key West were closed Wednesday. Orlando International was scheduled to shut down at 10:30 am, and at least 700 flights in and out were canceled by early Wednesday.
Miami-Dade County suspended Metrobus, Metrorail and other transit services “until further notice.” Disney World theme parks and Sea World in Orlando all closed ahead of the storm.
A couple from England on vacation in Tampa found themselves faced with riding out the storm at a shelter. Glyn and Christine Williams of London were told to leave their hotel near the beach when evacuations were ordered. Because the airport shut down, they could get no flight home.
“Unfortunately, all the hotels are full or closed, so it looks as though we’re going to be in one of the shelters,” Christine Williams said.
WHAT IS STORM SURGE?:Explaining a hurricane’s deadliest and most destructive threat
Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism