Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Floridians to be aware of local evacuation orders as Hurricane Ian is expected to strengthen into a “major” storm in the eastern Gulf of Mexico as early as Tuesday.
DeSantis said during a media briefing just before noon Monday that Ian will bring heavy rain, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surges and isolated tornadoes to Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“Floridians up and down the Gulf Coast should feel the impacts of this up to 36 hours before actual landfall, due to the size of the hurricane,” the governor said, adding that the storm was roughly 500 miles wide Monday as it churned south of Cuba.
DeSantis, who over the weekend declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, said the storm’s track indicated an expected landfall around Levy County, southwest of Gainesville. The track, however, remained uncertain, and DeSantis said it could “absolutely wobble further into the peninsula” or away from the state.
DeSantis’ update at the state Emergency Operations Center came shortly after local officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for parts of Hillsborough County. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch declared a local state of emergency on Sunday.
“The important thing for people to know is to know the (evacuation) zone that you’re in. You will have counties probably throughout this morning and into this afternoon identifying areas that are vulnerable for evacuation,” DeSantis said.
As of 11 a.m., a tropical-storm warning was in effect for part of the Florida Keys. A tropical-storm watch was in effect for other parts of the Keys, Lake Okeechobee and from Englewood south on the Gulf Coast. A hurricane watch was in effect from Englewood north to the Anclote River, including the Tampa Bay region, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“We also have storm surge watches in effect from Pinellas County down to the Florida Keys. Those watches are anticipated to become warnings later today,” DeSantis told reporters.
The state Department of Transportation suspended tolls in the Tampa Bay area to ease evacuations.
Meanwhile, the governor said there will “likely be some interruption” to the fuel supply coming to Florida because of the hurricane, but he said the state has contracts in place to bring in additional gasoline.
State Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said “several hundred” staff members have been deployed to support emergency shelters throughout the state.
“We know that for many Floridians, this may be their first hurricane experience. As the governor said, do not panic. There is still time to get your preparations in order and safely evacuate if necessary,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie said the state anticipates having to close Port Tampa Bay, but as of mid-day Monday all ports were open and continuing to take in fuel supplies.
Guthrie also asked people to “know your home” in advance of Hurricane Ian’s impacts.
Floridians who live in manufactured homes or older homes that cannot withstand hurricane-force winds will need to evacuate if local governments advise them to leave, Guthrie said.
DeSantis said his administration has been in contact with electric utilities but warned about likely interruptions of power in areas affected by the storm.
The Florida National Guard has activated 5,000 people, with 2,000 additional guard members from Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina available to assist with storm response. Five urban search-and-rescue teams have been activated, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff members also ready to assist with potential recovery duties.
“We are assessing constantly the location and path of the storm, and repositioning and prepositioning our resources and our people to be able to most immediately and effectively respond once the landfall has passed. We are here. and we are ready,” Florida National Guard Adjutant Gen. James Eifert said.