TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As Florida braces for Hurricane Ian, Gov. Ron DeSantis held multiple news conferences Tuesday to warn against the storm’s impacts.
DeSantis was joined by Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, Chief Financial Officer and Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis and Major General James O. Eifert, who oversees operations of the Florida National Guard.
[RELATED: 2022 storm names | Plan & Prepare: Hurricane season | TRENDING: Become News 6 Insider (free!)]
Those who lived through Hurricane Charley have noticed the similarity in Ian’s path toward Florida, 18 years later. As of Tuesday morning, Ian was a Category 3 hurricane near Cuba with winds of 125 mph and was moving north at 12 mph. On Tuesday evening, DeSantis said Ian was located approximately 250 miles south of Sarasota, moving north at 10 mph.
Florida’s west coast, possibly near Tampa, appeared to be among the most likely targets Ian to make landfall in the U.S., but a 5 p.m. advisory adjusted the track a little bit more south, according to DeSantis.
“Now I know there are folks in southwest Florida who remember Hurricane Charley was projected to make a direct impact into Tampa Bay and then it turned and went into southwest Florida. I would just say, the track may end up doing something similar but this is a much different storm,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis added that the storm is expected to impact counties across Central Florida based on its current trajectory, saying “this thing’s the real deal.”
“It’s also going to continue moving throughout the state. And it’s actually going to exit probably somewhere (near) Volusia, Flagler (or) St. Johns counties, so that’s going to take tropical storm force winds at a minimum up through (that area), almost like it’s riding I-4,” DeSantis said.
The governor reiterated the 2004 hurricane was “a lot smaller” but powerful.
“It was powerful as a Category 4. Most of the damage from Charley was from wind and wind destruction. What we have here is really historic storm surge and flooding potential,” he said.
The National Hurricane Center is predicting storm surge in Tampa Bay and surrounding waters of between 5 and 10 feet above normal tide conditions and rainfall of between 10 and 15 inches because of Hurricane Ian.
“That’s a lot of rain. That’s not going to drain out quickly,” said Cathie Perkins, emergency management director in Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg and Clearwater are located. “This is no joke. This is life-threatening storm surge.”
Guthrie added that tornado warnings were issued in different parts of the state.
“I urge Floridians to monitor weather alerts and seek immediate shelter if tornado warnings are issued. Tropical tornadoes will occur very quickly. They will happen overnight tonight, and will occur during heavy rain. You will not be able to see them coming,” he said.
In the event of a tornado warning, residents should seek shelter in an interior room and stay away from windows and doors.
Mandatory evacuations were issued in the Tampa Bay area ahead of the storm. Perdue with FDOT said residents should follow the evacuation orders and that many Floridians do not need to head north but instead travel toward the east coast.
“Many people in the southwest Florida area your best bet is going to be evacuate across the state. Just go straight across the state to Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach. Do not try to go north that will certainly help the secretary from DOT to help manage that traffic. Do not go north,” he said.
The state has suspended tolls in impacted areas, including all main toll roads in Central Florida and “Alligator Alley and many of the toll facilities in the Tampa region,” according to Purdue.
“We now have (tolls suspended on) State Road 91, the (Florida) Turnpike mainland from Osceola Parkway north to Interstate 75, SR-417, Southern Connector Extension, Central Florida Greenway and Seminole Expressway, SR-429, the Western Beltway, SR-408, SR-429, SR-528, the Beachline, SR-414, SR-538, SR-453, SR-551, I-4 Express and SR-552,” DeSantis said.
This also includes Central Florida Expressway Authority’s 125-mile system. He added that those toll suspensions may be expanded as the need arises.
Additionally, Guthrie said bridges would begin closing once the storm makes landfall to ensure the safety of motorists. He added that emergency shoulder use along I-4 from Tampa to Orlando Tuesday evening allowed motorists to evacuate the area until the traffic flow improved.
The governor said the Florida National Guard is on standby in the event of an emergency, along with other state assets, such as the state’s search and rescue teams.
“We have 5,000 Florida National Guardsmen that are activated and that are staging and that we’ll be ready to go and help people who may need help once the storm hits,” DeSantis said. “We’ve got another 2,000 (guards) from neighboring states. We have urban search and rescue teams that are activated and we have another three that are on standby should their services be required. Florida Fish and Wildlife, they’re activated. They’re standing by both in terms of vehicles that they would use to traverse water as well as aviation assets. That’s all tools (that) will be at (our) disposal. We have FHP with 12-hour shifts and additional state troopers that have already been mobilized to the Gulf Coast of Florida and, of course, we now have Coast Guard.”
Patronis also said five state teams and five FEMA teams are in play and ready to activate.
Additional assistance is being provided by the federal government, according to President Joe Biden’s press secretary, who said he and the Florida governor spoke about coordinated efforts to help the state.
President Biden spoke this evening with Governor DeSantis of Florida to discuss the steps the Federal government is taking to help Florida prepare for Hurricane Ian. The President and the Governor committed to continued close coordination.— Karine Jean-Pierre (@PressSec) September 27, 2022
DeSantis declared a statewide emergency and warned that Ian could lash large areas of the state, knocking out power and interrupting fuel supplies as it swirls northward off the state’s Gulf Coast.
“You have a significant storm that may end up being a Category 4 hurricane,” DeSantis said Monday at a news conference. “That’s going to cause a huge amount of storm surge. You’re going to have flood events. You’re going to have a lot of different impacts.”
He said there are now “over 30,000 personnel stationed and standing by to help with power restoration.”
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for coastal communities, mobile homes and low-lying areas in the following counties which include Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Putnam and Sarasota.
Hurricane warnings have been issued for areas across west Central Florida as well, including in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Polk, Lake, Seminole, Orange, Osceola, Okeechobee, Hardee, Highlands, DeSoto, Charlotte, Lee and coastal Collier counties.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect Tuesday night for Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Inland Collier, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, Brevard, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Sumter, Levy, Dixie, coastal Taylor, coastal Jefferson, coastal Wakulla, coastal Franklin, Marion, Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns, Duval, Coastal Nassau, Clay and Putnam counties.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management also activated the State Assistance Information Line to provide up-to-date information and additional resources for Floridians at the following number: 1-800-342-3557.
Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily: