TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As the sun rises over southwest Florida Thursday morning, communities are left to grapple with the magnitude of Hurricane Ian’s monstrous impact. Homes concealed beneath feet of flood surge, roofs ripped apart, trees strewn about, and many left wondering when things will return to normal.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Ian made landfall near Cayo Costa, Florida Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. By 2 a.m. Thursday, it had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75mph — but the damage had already been inflicted.
Millions of Floridians were left without power as Ian pushed its way inland towards the northeastern Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina coasts. Several Tampa Bay area communities reported various degrees of hurricane-related damage.
Residents in North Port were subjected to a storm of “unprecedented magnitude,” according to City officials. Tactical First-In teams were deployed to clear debris on roadways and make clear a path for first responders and others to travel safely.
Authorities also issued a boil water notice for residents until further notice.
“For your safety, an overnight curfew is in effect,” North Port officials added. “Please stay in your home. We know that North Port will come out of this a stronger and more united community.”
Authorities in Manatee County urged residents to use caution when taking to the streets immediately following Tropic Storm Ian’s impact on the region.
“As the heavy wind and rain subsidies, and overall storm conditions improve, it’s important that motorists stay off roadways in Manatee County as much as possible,” the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said.
Deputies are set to access the community over the next few hours to make sure it’s safe for drivers.
“Many roads will likely have downed trees, possibly power lines, and some areas will be flooded,” the sheriff’s office added. “We know many of you want to get outdoors or return home, but we ask you to exercise patience and please be safe!”
Authorities in Bradenton reported maximum wind gusts measuring 85 mph in the northeast corner of the county. A windspeed of 59 mph was reported in Bayshore Gardens.
“Please expect these conditions to continue throughout the night,” the Bradenton Police department said. “Please stay inside!”
Nearly one-third of residents in Polk County lost power as a result of Tropical Storm Ian’s impact overnight. Officials said late Wednesday that approximately 115,000 residents had lost power in total.
Polk County Emergency Management Director Paul Womble said much of the county was hit hard by powerful overnight storms that dropped several inches of rain per hour. Despite this, Womble confirmed there were no signs of flooding along the Peace River.
“Folks just really need to hunker down,” Womble said. “Stay home.”
He added it’s going to take some time for crews to clear debris from major roadways before it’s safe for drivers to take to the streets.
“We’ve had lots of trees down,” he said. “It will take time to get the roads open.”
Womble asked residents to wait inside until conditions improve, adding that may not be until Thursday night or Friday in some parts of the county for the all-clear to be given.
Crews were dispatched across Hillsborough County Wednesday to make last-minute preparations as now-Tropical Storm Ian made landfall in south Florida.
According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, cut teams worked to remove debris from communities across Hillsborough County.
“They will be back on the road when weather conditions improve and it is safe to do so,” the sheriff’s office said in a tweet. “Deputies are working around the clock to ensure public safety during Ian.”
Residents were urged to stay off the roads until authorities gave the green light. HCSO said it had received several reports of downed power lines and trees.
Push teams are set to venture out at daylight Thursday to assess the damage across Pinellas County and remove debris from downed trees and main roadways to increase access to hospitals, according to officials.
The St. Petersburg Police Department said the city did not immediately appear to suffer significant damage from now-Tropical Storm Ian, but added that 79 traffic signals were out throughout the city.
Officials said a more accurate count of downed trees and power lines will be availabe later Thursday.
Pasco County Emergency Management officials urged residents to stay indoors as crews assess the community and clear debris from the road.
“Please do not rush outside and think you can travel the roads,” said Andy Fossa, director of Pasco County Emergency Management. “There is going to be debris, downed powerlines, and structural damage to some structures.”
Fossa said if residents must go outside, they are urged to check their surroundings before venturing out. Drivers should also avoid deep puddles or streams at all costs.
“A lot of injuries and fatalities happen post-storm because of these kinds of actions,” Fossa added.
This is a developing story. For the latest Max Defender 8 updates on hurricane Ian, click here.