Florida Gulf Coast braces for Hurricane Ian, millions urged to evacuate
Forecasters have warned that Hurricane Ian could strengthen to a Category 4 storm as it targets Florida. It was moving closer to Florida's west coast early Wednesday (Sep 28), according to the National Hurricane Center. The residents emptied grocery shelves, boarded up windows and fled to evacuation shelters.
The center of the storm is expected to pass over central Florida on Wednesday night and Thursday morning (Sep 29), and emerge over the western Atlantic by late Thursday, the hurricane center said.
A Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale carries steady winds of up to 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour), according to Reuters.
The first hurricane advisory on Wednesday put Ian’s maximum sustained winds near 120 mph (195 kilometers per hour), ranking it a Category 3, but said the storm was expected to strengthen.
On Tuesday (Sep 27), Hurricane Ian tore into western Cuba as a major hurricane, knocking out power to the entire country and leaving 11 million people without electricity.
“The time to evacuate is now. Get on the road,” Florida’s director of emergency management, Kevin Guthrie, said during a news briefing on Tuesday evening, urging residents to heed evacuation warnings.
Governor Ron DeSantis warned late Tuesday night (Sep 27) that evacuation would become difficult for those who waited much longer to flee because increasing winds would soon force authorities to close highway bridges.
“You need to get to higher ground, you need to get to structures that are safe,” DeSantis said, adding that widespread power outages would leave millions without electricity once the storm strikes.
US Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Deanne Criswell said she worried that too few Florida residents were taking the threat seriously.
“I do have concerns about complacency,” Criswell said on Tuesday. “We’re talking about impacts in a part of Florida that hasn’t seen a major direct impact in nearly 100 years. There’s also parts of Florida where there’s a lot of new residents.”