Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses reporters at Florida’s Emergency Operations Center on Sept. 25, 2022. Credit: Michael Moline
With Tropical Storm Ian changing its track toward the west and forecast to become a major hurricane as early as Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Floridians throughout the state to prepare for high winds, storm surge, and heavy rains.
However, he also cautioned them against being too quick to evacuate their homes, given the potential to overload the state’s highways unnecessarily. Instead, they should look to local emergency management officials for guidance, the governor said.
And don’t be misled by maps depicting the storm’s path of uncertainty, which reflect compromises between the various models predicting the storm’s track.
“There are some models that want to tug this thing more deep into the Florida Panhandle. There are also some that want to bring it for landfall in the Tampa Bay region. So, from the Tampa Bay area all the way up to Escambia County along Florida’s Gulf coast, you could potentially see it make landfall in any of those places right now,” the governor said during a press briefing at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.
As of 11 a.m. Sunday, the National Hurricane Center placed Ian about 570 miles off the western tip of Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour and moving to the west-northwest at 14 miles per hour.
The storm was expected to enter the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday en route to potential landfall around Taylor County in the Big Bend region.
Even areas far away from the storm’s center could be affected, with flooding possibly extending to the east coast — “It’s a big storm,” DeSantis said.
Ian could weaken as it moves north, the governor said, but could still pack a wallop. Storm surges could prove the equivalent of that produced by a Category 4 storm even if Ian’s winds are weaker than that.
“Expect heavy rains, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surge, and even isolated tornadoes. Make preparations now,” he said. People also should expect power outages and fuel distribution disruptions.
DeSantis said he has now extended the Ian emergency zone to cover all of Florida’s 67 counties and that the Florida National Guard has activated 2,500 personnel and will call up more if needed. He has been in contact with Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Deanne Chriswell and “they stand by, ready to help.”
Meanwhile, the state was stocking supplies of food and water, generators, pumps, and emergency personnel and setting up staging area to distribute aid to the counties. As of Sunday evening, the state expects to have loaded 360 trailers with more than 2 million meals and 1 million gallons of water, state Emergency Management director Kevin Guthrie said.
As for evacuations: More than 2 million people than was necessary evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma in 2017, Guthrie said. He urged residents to visit the state’s emergency website to identify which disaster zone they live in, and also find out how sturdily their homes are build against storms or floods.
But don’t evacuate unless directed to by local disaster officials.
“When you put people on the road, that’s not cost-free. I mean, there’s traffic, there’s fatalities on the road. So, you want to be very careful about doing that,” DeSantis said.
“At the same time, if you have vulnerable populations in like a Pinellas County, where you have mobile homes, senior facilities, you know, you want to make sure that they’re given to safety.”
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