Hundreds of thousands of Floridians had been given mandatory evacuation orders in anticipation of powerful storm surge, high winds and flooding rains from Ian as it moves near Orlando.
After making landfall in Florida Wednesday afternoon as a powerful and extremely dangerous Category 4 Hurricane, Ian was downgraded early Thursday to a tropical storm, with winds now at 65 miles per hour, down from a maximum of 150.
While the storm has weakened, its still expected to bring a surge of strong wings, heavy rains and flooding as it continues along its path of destruction.
Ian, now about 40 miles southeast of Orlando, is moving northeast at a speed of 8 mph, according to the latest update from the National Hurricane Center.
According to The Associated Press’ storm tracker, Ian is forecast to remain southeast of Orlando before traveling back out onto the water, along Florida’s northeastern coast. The center of Ian is forecast to move out of the state on Thursday and then travel north. The storm is then expected to re-intensify as it hits South Carolina on Friday, the National Hurricane Center says, with Charleston and Savannah directly in its path before moving inland.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Ian’s center will move farther inland across the Carolinas Friday night and into Saturday, eventually weakening as it travels.
Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Florida Thursday
With maximum sustained winds at 150 mph, just 7 mph short of a Category 5 hurricane, Ian made landfall around 3:05 p.m. Wednesday in Cayo Costa, near a portion of the state’s heavily populated Gulf Coast near Fort Myers, the NHC in Miami said.
Hundreds of thousands of Floridians had been given mandatory evacuation orders in anticipation of powerful storm surge, high winds and flooding rains from Ian. More than two million power outages were reported throughout the state, according to the PowerOutage.us site.
Forecasters had said the area where Ian made landfall could be inundated by a storm surge of up to 18 feet.
“A storm of this magnitude will produce catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surge on the Gulf Coast of Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a Wednesday news conference. “This is a major, major storm.”
5 AM EDT 9/29 Key Messages for Tropical Storm #Ian. More advisory info: https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/ISkxK07TPq
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 29, 2022
In Port Charlotte, along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the storm surge flooded a lower-level emergency room in a hospital even as fierce winds ripped away part of the roof from its intensive care unit, according to a doctor who works there.
Water gushed down onto the ICU, forcing staff to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients — some of whom were on ventilators — to other floors, said Dr. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital. Staff members used towels and plastic bins to try to mop up the sodden mess.
The medium-sized hospital spans four floors, but patients were forced into just two because of the damage. Bodine planned to spend the night there in case people injured from the storm arrive needing help.
“As long as our patients do OK and nobody ends up dying or having a bad outcome, that’s what matters,” Bodine said.
Many rushed to board up their homes and move precious belonging up to higher floors before fleeing.
“You can’t do anything about natural disasters,” said Vinod Nair, who drove inland from the Tampa area Tuesday with his wife, son, dog and two kittens seeking a hotel in the tourist district of Orlando. “We live in a high risk zone, so we thought it best to evacuate.”
Sheriff Bull Prummell of Charlotte County, just north of Fort Myers, announced a curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. “for life-saving purposes,” saying violators may face second-degree misdemeanor charges.
“I am enacting this curfew as a means of protecting the people and property of Charlotte County,” Prummell said.
DeSantis said more power outages were expected, and he urged people to prepare for extended outages. He said Florida will receive assistance from several states, including Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and New York.
A hurricane watch was in effect for the Flagler/Volusia County Line to the South Santee River.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for north of Bonita Bach to Indian Pass, Boca Raton to Cape Lookout, North Carolina and Lake Okeechobee.
Pictures: ‘Catastrophic' Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Florida
A storm surge warning was in effect for the middle of Longboat Key southward to Flamingo, the Flagler/Volusia Line to the mouth of the South Santee River and the St. Johns River.
More than 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, in Hillsborough, Lee and other counties.
NBC's Sam Brock reports from Tampa as residents evacuate the city.
“If you are in any of those counties it is no longer possible to safely evacuate. It’s time to hunker down and prepare for the storm,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “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.”
DeSantis activated the state’s National Guard ahead of the storm’s expected impact this week. The governor’s declaration frees up emergency protective funding to address potential damage from storm surge, flooding, dangerous winds and other weather conditions throughout the state.
Florida's west coast is bracing for impact from what's being called a “life-threatening storm” as Hurricane Ian strengthened to a dangerous Category 4 hurricane
Florida Power & Light was preparing more than 13,000 workers to assist with their response to Hurricane Ian, company officials said. The power company said they were pre-positioning workers and supplies to respond to any outages from the hurricane.
Although South Florida didn’t take a direct hit from Hurricane Ian, severe weather and flooding were expected throughout the area over the next couple days.
In Broward, volatile storms passing through Tuesday night spawned a tornado that flipped small planes and a second unconfirmed tornado that ripped through a neighborhood uprooting trees.
At least two people were hospitalized Tuesday night after a tornado barrelled through Delray Beach, but there were no serious injuries, officials said.
Over 30 people were evacuated from the Kings Point apartment complex after the tornado tore the roof off of the building, fire officials said.
There were overturned cars, large tree branches and trunks scattered about and portions of the building were gutted.
One person called 911 after the roof collapsed and left her stuck in a bathroom, Palm Beach Fire Rescue said. Firefighters were able to go in and rescue her.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the county is expecting between three and eight inches of rainfall by Thursday with a risk of two to four feet of storm surge in the southern parts of the county
In Hialeah, residents at Holiday Acres Mobile Home Park woke up to flooded streets Wednesday morning.
Resident Esmeralda Rodriguez said the water has already receded and the situation looked better than the night before. She’s lived in this mobile home since 1996 and says high water levels after a storm aren’t unusual around here.
“I’m used to this … the water comes and goes,” she said. “But thank God we are alive and that’s what matters most.”
Hialeah Mayor Steve Bovo said mobile home park streets are private roads and are not under the city’s jurisdiction, creating a complicated scenario for residents.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Monday night that the football team was relocating football operations to the Miami area in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Florida Gators and UCF Knights moved their games to Sunday while the USF Bulls will now play their game Saturday in Boca Raton.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.