TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis provided another update on the impacts of Hurricane Ian as the storm continues its approach to Florida and strengthens on its way in. The storm is now expected to make landfall as a “strong” Category 3 or possibly a Category 4 storm, according to the governor’s latest update. Transportation officials are currently weighing bridge closures, according to DeSantis.
Landfall itself is now expected to come at the “juncture of Charlotte and Lee counties,” as of the latest update from Florida officials, with “catastrophic flooding and life threatening storm surge on the gulf coast region and of course the highest risk will be in Naples up to Sarasota,” according to DeSantis. Additionally, state officials are warning residents of the potential for flash floods and tornadoes.
A tornado watch is now in effect for both Central and South Florida until 5 a.m.
“We anticipate landfall tomorrow afternoon and into tomorrow evening, but even if it doesn’t make land until tomorrow evening, you’re going to feel effects far before that,” DeSantis said. For those evacuating, the governor said AirBNBs and hotels were available to shelter those heading for southeast Florida and the Big Bend and Florida Panhandle regions.
“Now is the time to act,” DeSantis said, urging residents to get somewhere safe. “There are shelters in every county.”
Officials urged residents not to drive through flooded roadways during evacuations, and to stay aware of traffic conditions. Search and rescue teams remain on standby, as well as teams from FEMA, to perform their rescue duties if needed.
DeSantis said tolls have been suspended in additional areas from Tampa Bay to Alligator Alley. Now State Road 91 has also had its tolls suspended in some locations, as well as State Road 409, State Road 551, the I-4 Express, among others. DeSantis said all of the tolls in the Central Florida area have been suspended.
A full list of suspended tolls can be found online from the Florida Department of Transportation.
The governor was joined by Director Kevin Guthrie from the Florida Dept. of Emergency Management, Sec. Jared Perdue from the Dept. of Transportation, Major General James O. Eifert of the Florida National Guard, and Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson from the U.S. Coast Guard.
“If you are seeking shelter in a hotel, Expedia has partnered with VisitFlorida”, DeSantis said. The company is providing an emergency accommodations page to help travelers find somewhere to stay while Hurricane Ian comes through.
The governor said as of 3 p.m., over 100 shelters, including for pets and residents with special needs, were open and more shelters were being added as the storm’s track changes. He said a list of shelters available was online as well from state agencies.
He reiterated that 5,000 Florida National Guard service members had been activated as well as an additional 2,000 from neighboring states sending assistance. Search and rescue teams and helicopter evacuation crews have been activated for immediate deployment if rescue is needed.
“As of today, 100% of long-term operating care facilities have a generator on site,” DeSantis said, referring to retirement communities and elder care locations in Florida. He said a large number of line crews had also been put in position to assist with power needs from Ian’s impact.
DeSantis said Florida Power & Light, Tampa Electric Company, and Duke Energy Florida were all ready to assist, as needed.
“As the track of the storm has shifted more south, Kevin Guthrie has shifted more resources to the southern portion of the state,” DeSantis said. “We are bringing in more than 1 million gallons of fuel to support response efforts.” He said there were also resources in place for feeding crews and evacuees.
Hospitals in the path of the storm are also “ready” to perform their duties and keep patients safe as Ian arrives.
DeSantis said to expect impacts through Wednesday and Thursday and that the storm was “the real deal,” with it likely to gain strength as it headed toward Georgia.
McPherson spoke next, saying they were ready to work and that their priority was search and rescue and saving lives. McPherson said there were 30 aircraft already positioned to act as soon as conditions allow for safe flight.
“The other thing we really need to focus on is reopening the ports as soon as conditions allow,” McPherson said, adding that a number of cutters were waiting to allow commodities into Port Tampa Bay once conditions allowed to let supplies in.
“We’re also ready to respond to any hazardous spills, and to work with our local partners,” as conditions required.
McPherson said more than 5,000 USCG members call Florida home, so the storm affected them as much as other residents and travelers in the state.
Guthrie said there were federal teams mobilized already from multiple states coming in to help Florida through Hurricane Ian, and more on the way including as far away as Colorado and all the way to the East Coast.
Those in need of resources during the hurricane are encouraged to reach out to their local emergency management agencies. If they are unable to get what they need, Guthrie said they could go through the state FDEM directly as well, urging residents to evacuate if they are in an evacuation zone.
“There will be a point in time where you will not be safe to travel the roads,” Guthrie said. “The time to evacuate is now. Get on the road … There will come a time when local public safety officials will not be able to respond to your cry for help, they will not be able to do it. And you may be left to fend for yourself. The time to evacuate is now.”
Guthrie thanked the governor for his leadership before DeSantis took the podium again.
“You have in southwest Florida, really throughout the state, but really throughout the communities that may get hit with the initial impact of the eye of the storm, you have a lot of mobile homes,” DeSantis said. “You have folks, and actually the way those are done, they can actually withstand 100 mile per hour winds, maybe 110 to be certified. But you’re looking at a Category 3 that is strengthening, it will become a Category 4 storm, and it may be a Category 4 storm when it makes impact in what looks to be Southwest Florida. And that is not a risk you want to be taking.”
DeSantis said there was still time to evacuate and that you didn’t have to go hundreds of miles away. He urged people to take advantage of the time and sheltering options, either with friends and family or through community shelters, but that people should take care to be safe.
Asked how conversations with President Joe Biden about the storm had gone, DeSantis said they had not spoken directly.
“I have not personally spoken with the President, but FEMA has approved our pre-landfall request,” DeSantis said. “We feel like we have a good relationship with FEMA. I’m happy to brief the president if he’s interested, in hearing what we’re doing in Florida. My view on all of this is, you’ve got people’s lives at stake, you’ve got their property at stake, we don’t have time for pettiness. We’ve gotta work together to make sure we’re doing the best job for them. My phone line is open, we’re happy, but we do appreciate the quick approval of the pre-landfall declaration.”