One of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the US, Hurricane Ian, swamped southwest Florida on Wednesday, devastating streets with floods, knocking out power, and trapping over 1.8 million people in homes with catastrophic damage threats further inland.
While desperate people posted to Facebook and other social sites pleading for rescue for themselves or loved ones, a coastal sheriff’s office also reported that it was getting many calls from people trapped in flooded homes.
— Brennan Prill (@WxBrenn) September 28, 2022
The hurricane’s center made landfall near Cayo Costa, a barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers. As it approached, water drained from Tampa Bay.
Hurricane Ian ‘Terrifying’
Mark Pritchett, CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation, stepped outside his home in Venice around the time the hurricane churned ashore from the Gulf of Mexico about 35 miles (55 kilometers) to the south. He called it “terrifying.”
Here is a time-lapse of the #StormSurge coming in on Sanibel Island, #Florida caught on a live traffic cam. This was only 30mins condensed down, it deteriorated quickly. 😬 #HurricaneIan #Hurricane #Ian pic.twitter.com/JKuNROvMm4
— BirdingPeepWx (@BirdingPeepWx) September 28, 2022
“I literally couldn’t stand against the wind, rain shooting like needles,” Pritchett wrote in a text message. “My street is a river. Limbs and trees down. And the worst is yet to come.”
The hurricane, recognized as a category 4 storm, slammed the coast with 150 mph (241 kph) winds and pushed a wall of storm surge over the Gulf.
According to PowerOutage.us, more than 1.8 million Florida homes and businesses witnessed a total blackout without electricity, and nearly every home and business in three counties was without power.
Previously, the storm tore into Cuba, killing two people and bringing down the country’s electrical grid. About 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate southwest Florida before Ian hit, but by law, no one could be forced to flee.
Although the hurricane is anticipated to weaken to a tropical storm as it marches inland at about 9 mph (14 kph), Ian’s hurricane-force winds were likely to be felt well into central Florida.
Hours after landfall, top-sustained winds had dropped to 105 mph (170 kph), making it a Category 2 hurricane. Still, storm surges as high as 6 feet (2 meters) were expected on the opposite side of the state in northeast Florida.
Curfew announced to save lives
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.
Jackson Boone left his home near the Gulf Coast and hunkered down at his law office in Venice with employees and their pets. Boone, at one point, opened a door to howling winds and rain flying sideways.
“We’re seeing tree damage, horizontal rain, very high wind, [and] we have a 50-plus-year-old oak tree that has toppled over,” Boone said by phone.
The first floor of a fire station in Naples was inundated with about three feet (one meter) of water and firefighters worked to salvage gear from a fire truck stuck outside the garage in even deeper water, according to a video posted by the Naples Fire Department.
Naples is in Collier County. The sheriff’s department in the county reported on Facebook that it was getting “a significant number of calls of people trapped by water in their homes” and that it would prioritize reaching people who were “reporting life-threatening medical emergencies in deep water.”
Ian’s strength at landfall and its wind speed mean it is the fifth-strongest hurricanes (tied with yet one more hurricane) to strike the US.
Other hurricanes have hit Florida’s coast
In August 2004, Hurricane Charley, among other storms, hit nearly at the same spot on Florida’s coast, killing ten people and inflicting $14 billion in damages.
Ian made landfall more than one hundred miles (160 kilometers) south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, sparing the densely populated Tampa Bay area from its first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
Forecasters predicted Ian will turn toward the states of Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina as a tropical storm and will likely dump more flooding rains continuing into the weekend after crossing Florida.
All the governors in the respective identified states preemptively declared states of emergency.