TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Tallahassee alongside emergency management and Florida National Guard officials ahead of Hurricane Ian’s arrival on Wednesday.
The governor has been giving daily updates as the storm’s path is tracked by specialists at the National Hurricane Center. He spoke after receiving a briefing from state officials on the path of the storm and emergency preparedness efforts.
“As of 11 a.m., the storm is located roughly 300 miles south of Key West and it’s moving North-North West at about 14 miles per hour,” DeSantis said. “Maximum sustained winds are at about 80 miles per hour.”
The governor said it would strengthen to a “major hurricane” in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico as early as Tuesday, bringing storm surge and other related weather events.
“This is a really big hurricane at this point,” DeSantis said. “The width of it is about 500 miles wide. If you look at the cone, and if you look at the landfall, going, it still looks to be Levy County, the impacts are going to be much much broader than that. Of course the track is still uncertain, it could wobble further into the peninsula, or even further away form the peninsula.”
DeSantis warned about storm surge in the southwest Florida, even though it’s projected to be further off the coast, by about 150 miles. He said coastal communities had already begun evacuation efforts and that a tropical storm warning and watches were issued for different parts of the state, including a storm surge watch in Pinellas County.
The governor said to keep an eye on evacuation warnings, and that tolls had been suspended by the Florida Department of Transportation in the Tampa Bay area to aid in evacuation efforts, as well as others including Alligator Alley. Other toll suspensions may come “if warranted,” according to DeSantis.
He said school closures were also expected. Areas in Tampa Bay have already announced closures due to the storm. DeSantis said 5,000 Florida National Guard had been activated to help during the storm, and that the U.S. Coast Guard was ready to assist during the state of emergency which was declared for Florida as a whole.
“We know this is going to have major impacts on Florida’s Gulf Coast,” DeSantis said. “We’ve issued waivers of weight restrictions for commercial trucks to ensure we have ample fuel and resources coming into Florida.”
The governor warned against buying more water than you’ll need, and that retailers were working on resupplying in preparation for the storm. He said emergency refills of maintenance prescriptions have been authorized for 30 days.
“We’ve also been in contact with the major utilities throughout the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “Particularly those that are servicing the Gulf Coast of Florida.”
DeSantis said the companies were prepared and had “tens of thousands of people staged” to restore power, should it turn off, though he said he expected an interruption of power and told residents to plan for it to happen.
“Even if the eye of the storm doesn’t hit your region, you’re going to have really significant winds, it’s going to knock over trees, it’s going to cause interruptions, that’s just the name of the game,” DeSantis said. “So just be prepared for that. They have the resources in place where of course, that’s going to be a priority, once it’s safe, to get power on as quickly as possible.”
The governor said residents should get their emergency plans ready and that there were going to be major impacts in Florida from Hurricane Ian.
“For all of you new Floridians who haven’t been through one of these before, just understand, remain calm, there’s no need to panic, listen to the folks at the local level, listen to what they advise in terms of preparations, any evacuations,” DeSantis said. “For those of you who are going to be in your homes and have one of the generators. Just remember those need to be operated outside of your home.”
He warned that use of the generators inside could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, and that residents should ensure the exhaust is handled properly and not allowed to come inside homes.
Florida Department of Emergency Management Kevin Guthrie and Florida National Guard Major General James O. Eifert spoke with DeSantis, discussing preparations and plans for how to move past the storm’s impacts.
“We currently have more than 338 active missions for our local partners,” Guthrie said. “We are working diligently to make sure those needs are met.” Guthrie said that some needs may not be met until after Ian makes landfall, due to the danger of leaving resources out as high-speed winds come in.
“This includes providing meals, waters,” and strike teams to go to areas that are impacted. Guthrie said emergency operations logistical stations to assist with response after the hurricane makes landfall, one on each side of the east and west portions. Guthrie told residents not to panic, but be ready to evacuate if needed.
Eifert thanked neighboring states for helping secure resources to help with storm preparations and said the Guard was reassessing and prepositioning for storm impacts after landfall occurs.
DeSantis returned to the podium and was asked about insurance issues during the hurricane season. He said it was a problem that would continue to be dealt with but said the recent special session was part of a solution.
“We’ve got a huge amount of financial wherewithal right now, so we’ll be able to get through it, but if you’re asking if I’d have rather the storm not hit us, the answer is yes,” DeSantis said.
The U.S. Coast Guard will also be arriving in Florida to help reopen ports once the storm hits, according to Guthrie.
Eifert was asked if he’d requested permission to mobilize unvaccinated guardsmen, with the question focused on the 10% of personnel who were “sidelined” by Dept. of Defense policies regarding COVID-19 vaccination. He said it would not affect readiness or response during the hurricane.
After the question and answer session, DeSantis said he’d be giving an afternoon update from Tampa Bay.