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Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a major Category 4 storm near Cayo Costa along the southwestern coast of Florida, the National Hurricane Center reported.
The “extremely dangerous” storm made landfall with maximum sustained winds near 150 miles per hour, according to the center.
Floodwaters raced down streets and enveloped lawns along Florida’s southwest coast as heavy rains and high winds from historic Hurricane Ian roared.
“So this is going to be a nasty, nasty day, two days,” Gov. Ron DeSantis warned in a briefing Wednesday.
More than 1 million homes and businesses across Florida are without power, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us. Power outages should be expected statewide, Florida Power & Light warned.
As of 4 pm, the storm’s center was located 20 miles northwest of Fort Myers. Ian will continue to slam much of the state with life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic winds and floodingthe National Hurricane Center said.
“We are now forecasting a catastrophic storm surge of 12 to 16 feet from Englewood to Bonita Beach,” the hurricane center advisory warned.
At 150 mph, Ian’s stunning wind speeds were within 7 mph of Category 5, the highest status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale of Hurricane Intensity.
Ian’s winds prompt rare ‘extreme wind warning’
An extreme wind warning was in effect for portions of southwest Florida for extremely dangerous hurricane winds as Ian came ashore. “Treat these imminent extreme winds as if a tornado was approaching and move immediately to an interior room or shelter NOW!,” the National Weather Service warned.
Storm slowing down means 24 hours of ‘wind pushing water’
National Weather Service Director Ken Graham said the storm was moving at 9 mph and was slowing down. It will take 24 hours or more to cross the state, he said – “24 hours of rainfall, 24 hours of wind pushing the water.”
Some areas will see 24 inches of rain, some will see storm surges of 18 feet, he said.
“This is a devastating storm for parts of Florida, not just on the southwest coast but inland,” he said. “This is going to be a storm we will talk about for many years to come. It’s a historic event.”
Georgia, South Carolina to see Ian’s fury
Ian was expected to weaken after landfall, the hurricane center said, but the storm could remain near hurricane strength when it moves over Florida’s east coast Thursday. And could still hold its power as it approaches the northeastern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts late Friday.
Heavy rainfall will spread across the Florida peninsula through Thursday.
“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.
FEMA: Storm surges, flooding biggest concerns
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Deanne Criswell says her biggest concern is the expected storm surge and inland flooding from heavy rains as the storm crawls across Florida over the next two days. She urged residents across the state to heed the warnings of local officials for the “historic and catastrophic impacts that we are already beginning to see.”
“Water is dangerous, period,” Criswell said at a briefing Wednesday. “From coastal storm surges to inland flooding, the majority of the state of Florida is in Ian’s crosshairs.”
Even Waffle Houses are shutting down
The Waffle House chain, known for its waffles, smothered hash browns and always-open doors, said it had closed 21 restaurants in Florida due to Ian. The Waffle House Storm Center, a team that mobilizes during extreme weather, has been monitoring the storm’s path since Ian was a named storm, said Waffle House Vice President of Public Relations Njeri Boss. The chain was working with local governments and emergency responders around the clock to see if other outlets must close, he said.
“We do have closures in mandatory evacuation zones and areas within low-lying areas that are subject to severe flooding,” Boss told USA TODAY Wednesday.
Social media took notice. Twitter user Ted Vician posted that “everything else is foreshadowing. Closed Waffle House means stuff is about to get real.”
– Natalie Neysa Alund, USA TODAY
Too late to flee for some
DeSantis warned the highest risk was along the west coast counties of Collier, Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota. Landfall is forecast for Charlotte County.
“If you are in any of those counties, it’s no longer possible to safely evacuate,” DeSantis said. “It’s time to hunker down and prepare for this storm.”
What is storm arises?:Explaining a hurricane’s deadliest and most destructive threat
tornadoes strike florida
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.
The Storm Prediction Center said Wednesday that “the risk of a few tornadoes should gradually increase across parts of central and east-central Florida this afternoon, with a potential focus from Lake Okeechobee northward to near Orlando during the next few hours.”
Ian puts Cuba in the dark
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, transit, theme parks brace for storm
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.
President warns oil companies about price gouging
President Joe Biden on Wednesday warned oil and gas companies against increasing prices for consumers as Hurricane Ian neared landfall.
“Do not, let me repeat, do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people,” Biden said at the start of a conference on hunger in America.
Biden said that the hurricane “provides no excuse for price increases at the pump” and if it happens, he will ask federal officials to determine “whether price gauging is going on.”
Contributing: Douglas Soule and Sergio Bustos, USA Today Network-Florida; Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism