Hurricane Ian is making landfall over the west coast of Florida, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday afternoon.
The storm greatly intensified as it neared land, reaching winds of 155 mph and nearing the most dangerous Category 5 classification Wednesday morning. Hurricane force winds were 35 miles out from the center and tropical storm force winds were 150 miles from the center, according to the National Weather Service.
“This is going to be a nasty, nasty day, two days” DeSantis said early Wednesday in a press conference. Officials in Florida and nationally are closely tracking the storm’s movements.
More than 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders in Florida, but legally, no residents can be forced to leave their homes. DeSantis said the highest-risk areas in the state range from Collier County up to Sarasota County, and it is no longer safe for residents in those counties to evacuate.
“Do what you need to do to stay safe. If you are where that storm is approaching, you’re already in hazardous conditions. It’s going to get a lot worse very quickly. So please hunker down,” he said.
Rainfall near the storm’s landfall site could top more than 18 inches, and storm surges could push as much as 18 feet of water over nearly 100 miles of coastline, according to the National Hurricane Center. The National Weather Service has also issued the highest-possible wind warning for several regions in Florida in anticipation of extreme wind damage from the storm. But meteorologists were most concerned about the flooding.
“Water. We have to talk about the water,” warned National Weather Service Director Ken Graham. “90% of fatalities in these tropical systems comes from the water. It’s the storm surge, it’s the rain.”
Hurricane Ian approaches west coast of Florida on Sept. 28th, 2022.
For residents who can still evacuate, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern encouraged them to follow the evacuation instructions of their elected officials and bring essential medication, documents and other items like glasses with them.
“Check on your neighbors and please don’t wait out the storm if you’re being told to evacuate — it’s dangerous,” she said in a Wednesday press briefing.
Gov. DeSantis said the state has 42,000 linemen, 7,000 National Guard troops from Florida and elsewhere and urban search and rescue teams ready to help when the storm is over.
A sail boat is beached at Sarasota Bay as Hurricane Ian approaches on September 28, 2022 in Sarasota, Florida.
Sean Rayford | Getty Images
More than 200,000 power outages have already been reported across the state, but DeSantis said this is just a “drop in the bucket” compared to the widespread power outages that are anticipated across southwest Florida over the next 48 hours.
Even once the storm is over, DeSantis said it may not be completely safe to go outside. He encouraged residents to be careful of fallen powerlines, standing water and fallen trees.
President Joe Biden told Florida residents Wednesday he would support them through the storm “every step of the way.”
“We’ll be there to help you clean up and rebuild, to help Florida get moving again,” he said.
Utility trucks are staged in a rural lot in The Villages of Sumter County, Fla., Wednesday morning, Sept. 28, 2022, in preparation for Hurricane Ian.
Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP
Candy Powell, an east Orlando resident, has lived in Florida since 2016 and watched the state face hurricanes like Irma, Dorian and Matthew. She said she feels like there was less time to prepare for Hurricane Ian, but she is trying to stay calm for the sake of her neighbors.
“I think a lot of people who just moved into Florida were really, really stressed,” she told CNBC. “I’m kind of trying to be like the calming factor. Even going to the store yesterday, I actually just kind of had to almost get just regular groceries. The shelves were empty. There was hardly any canned stuff left.”
Powell can tell the storm is picking up, and she said she is already noticing rushing winds and heavy rain.
This story is developing, please check back for updates.
(With inputs from CNBC)