DeSantis warns Hurricane Ian will bring ‘catastrophic’ storm surge, flooding

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, during a news conference on Sept. 26 in Largo.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ message on Hurricane Ian was clear on Tuesday morning: “It is now a major hurricane.”

That was his first message during a Tuesday morning briefing in Tallahassee as the storm churned roughly 200 miles south of the Florida Keys, and slowly moved north at about 12 miles per hour into the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 3.

“There is still uncertainty with where the exact landfall will be, but just understand the impacts are going to be far, far broader than just where the eye of the storm happens to make landfall. In some areas, there will be catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surge,” DeSantis said.

The 500-mile wide storm, with sustained winds of roughly 125 miles per hour, is expected to intensify into a Category 4 storm and impact the entire state. The National Hurricane Center is predicting landfall near Venice. While nearly the entire coast of the state could see storm surge, Tampa Bay could see 5 to 10 feet of water above dry land and up to 2 feet of rain.

DeSantis urged Floridians to heed the warnings of local and state officials, and said over 2 million people are under some type of evacuation order.

Roughly 90 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have also been evacuated, state officials said, though it is unclear exactly how many residents were evacuated from those locations.

“Mother Nature is a very fearsome adversary so please heed the warnings,” he said. “You don’t need to evacuate to another state. You don’t need to go hundreds of miles away. There are shelters that are open at all of these counties at this point.

“If you’re under an evacuation order, evacuate to higher ground,” he said. “That is going to be safe from the type of surge and flooding that we’re hearing with this storm.”

During the morning briefing Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, stressed that Tampa is not yet out of the woods, and it should still expect to have “storm surge.”

Guthrie urged Floridians in the southwest counties to evacuate to Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.

“Do not try to go north,” he said, noting that it will help with traffic management. He added that fuel should be available as people evacuate.

‘The Gulf is going to be very angry’

DeSantis warned that the storm will bring life-threatening conditions.

“The Gulf is going to be very angry as this comes in,” he said. “And so the danger to life and limb is really from that surge and from that flooding, more so than the wind.”

DeSantis continued to urge Floridians in “vulnerable” areas to evacuate and find a safe shelter during a press conference later Tuesday in Sarasota with local officials.

“If you are going to an evacuation center, eat before you go. Bring your emergency kits, including bedding, a flashlight and toiletries. You are going to get 20 square feet of space there,” said Ed McCrane Jr., Sarasota County’s emergency management chief. “You can bring a pet. Every single evacuation center in Sarasota County is pet friendly.”

Power outages and interruptions to fuel and communications are to be expected, DeSantis said during the morning press conference. But the state, communications and utility companies are ready to respond to restore services as quickly as possible.

Guthrie, however, warned some areas in the state could lose power for up to a week, depending on the situation.

“If you are a medically dependent resident and you depend on electricity, you need to start seeking shelter now,” Guthrie said at the noon press conference. “Go to a friend, or family member or seek shelter.”

As people evacuate, Guthrie encouraged Floridians to keep their gas tanks half full to allow shorter lines at gas stations, or their electric vehicle batteries half charged at all times.

The changing path of Ian has made the current forecast much better for North Florida, but increasingly dire for the central Gulf Coast area, and puts in play to a larger degree places like Fort Myers and South Florida, which is already seeing rain from the storm’s outer bands.

DeSantis made the comparison to Hurricane Charley in 2004, the last major storm to directly hit Florida’s southern Gulf Coast.

That storm created huge wind damage, but the governor said that if the track remains where it is today, the region should expect more flood than wind damage from Hurricane Ian.

“Make sure you’re executing your plans,” DeSantis said. “This is imminent.”