Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned many of his residents early Wednesday that it is too late to flee the “catastrophic’ wrath of Hurricane Ian, which is expected to make landfall in hours as a historic Category 5 storm.
“It’s no longer possible to safely evacuate,” DeSantis warned residents in the wide area around Charlotte County, where Ian is expected to make landfall just north of Fort Myers this afternoon.
“It’s time to hunker down and prepare for this storm,” he stressed.
“Do what you need to do to stay safe. If you are where that storm is approaching, you’re already in hazardous conditions. It’s going to get a lot worse very quickly. So please hunker down,” he repeated.
With Ian already reaching maximum winds of 155 mph, it is “knocking on the door of a Category 5 storm,” DeSantis said — a terrifying listing for historic storms hitting 157 mph or more.
“This is a major, major storm … This is going to be a nasty, nasty day,” he said, acknowledging the danger will likely last until at least late Thursday.
The director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, Kevin Guthrie, went further, saying his local directors were all “preparing” for “and expecting a Cat 5.”
“The storm is here. It is imminent,” he stressed, warning those in its path to stay inside.
State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said the threat was so great, it had led to “the largest response I’ve ever seen in the state” as rescue teams were readied with support from 7,000 National Guard troops.
“They’ve been training for their entire lives for this mission,” he said, highlighting the scale of the expected disaster.
Here’s everything to know about Hurricane Ian:
“As the governor said, hunker down — now’s not the time to hit the roads,” he warned residents.
DeSantis, meanwhile, said that the “assets we have are unprecedented in the state’s history and, unfortunately, they’ll need to be deployed.”
The massive storm appeared on track to slam ashore somewhere north of Fort Myers and some 125 miles south of Tampa. The area is popular with retirees and tourists drawn to pristine white sandy beaches and long barrier islands, which forecasters said could be completely inundated.
Those staying behind were also warned not to rush out to buy supplies or stay outside reinforcing properties.
“Time is quickly running out for residents to rush preparations to completion on the southwestern Florida peninsula as Hurricane #Ian nears,” the National Hurricane Center tweeted just after 8:30 a.m.
“Tropical-Storm-Force winds already beginning to affect [the] coast. Conditions will rapidly deteriorate & catastrophic wind damage is expected,” it said.
It also warned that Ian “will be a long-duration flooding risk, highlighted by Day 2 & Day 3 excessive rainfall outlook. Widespread prolonged major & record river flooding expected across C Florida.”
Florida was not the only state at risk, with “considerable flooding spreading SE Georgia & coastal South Carolina,” the center predicted.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp preemptively declared an emergency, ordering 500 National Guard troops onto standby to respond as needed.
On its way to the US, Ian walloped Cuba, devastating Pinar del Río province, where much of the tobacco used for Cuba’s iconic cigars is grown and where state broadcaster Canal Caribe reported two deaths.
“It was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” said Hirochi Robaina, owner of the farm that bears his name and that his grandfather made known internationally.
The extent of the damage was not immediately clear overnight as the whole nation of 11 million was left without power — for the first time in memory, and perhaps ever.
Three regions were restored early Wednesday. But the capital, Havana, and other parts of western Cuba remained without any power.
With Post wires