Hurricane Ian upgraded to an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm and neared Category 5 status, its maximum sustained winds blowing at 155 mph as Florida’s west coast prepared to make landfall Wednesday after -midday.
“It’s going to have major impacts in terms of wind, rain, flooding,” Governor Ron DeSantis warned during a briefing Wednesday. “So it’s going to be a dirty, dirty day, two days.”
Nearly 200,000 South Florida homes and businesses were already in darkness early Wednesday, according to tracking website poweroutage.us. Power outages should be expected statewide, Florida Power & Light warned.
AccuWeather’s predicted landfall will occur south of Venice and north of Fort Myers, Fla., between noon and 3 p.m. EDT. It will hit much of the state with life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic winds and flooding, the National Hurricane Center said. At 11 a.m., Ian’s center was located 45 miles west-northwest of Naples.
“We are now forecasting a catastrophic storm surge of 12 to 16 feet from Englewood to Bonita Beach,” the hurricane center advisory warned.
Ian’s stunning wind speeds were within 2 mph of Category 5, the highest status on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.
National Weather Service Director Ken Graham said the storm is slowing and will take 24 hours or more to cross the state – “24 hours of rain, 24 hours of wind pushing water.”
Some areas will see 24 inches of rain, others will see an 18-foot storm surge, he said.
“This is a devastating storm for parts of Florida, not just on the southwest coast but inland,” he said. “This is going to be a storm that we will talk about for many years. This is a historic event.”
• Hurricane tracker: Where is Ian going? See the map.
• Do you need to evacuate? How to stay safe when approaching Ian.
• Provide: Ian will likely spend days dumping rain on Florida. Here are the prospects.
FEMA: Most Concerning Storm Surge and Flooding
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Deanne Criswell said her biggest concern was the expected storm surge and inland flooding from heavy rain as the storm crawls across the Florida over the next two days. She urged residents across the state to heed warnings from local officials about “the historic and catastrophic impacts we’re already starting to see.”
“The water is dangerous, period,” Criswell said during a Wednesday briefing. “From coastal storm surge to inland flooding, the majority of the state of Florida is in Ian’s sights.”
Even the waffle houses are closing
The Waffle House chain, known for its waffles, muffled hash browns and always-open doors, said it closed 11 restaurants in Florida because of Ian. The Waffle House Storm Center, a team that mobilizes during severe weather, has been monitoring the storm’s path since Ian is a named storm, said Waffle House vice president of public relations Njeri Boss. The chain was working with local governments and emergency responders around the clock to see if any other outlets needed to close, he said.
“We have closures in mandatory evacuation zones and low-lying areas that are prone to severe flooding,” Boss told USA TODAY on Wednesday.
Social networks have taken notice. Twitter user Ted Vician posted that “everything else is foreshadowing. Closed Waffle House means things are about to get real.”
WAFFLE HOUSE OUTLETS BELIEVE IN IAN:How badly will the hurricane hit Florida? Waffle House closures plan for a powerful outburst from Ian
Too late to flee for some
DeSantis warned the highest risk was along the west coast counties of Collier, Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota. Landing is scheduled for Charlotte County.
“If you are in one of these counties, it is no longer safe to evacuate,” DeSantis said. “It’s time to duck down and prepare for this storm.”
WHAT IS STORM SURGE? :Explaining the Deadliest and Most Destructive Threat of a Hurricane
Hurricane Ian tracking
Tornadoes hit Florida
Tornadoes were also a risk. Tornadoes were possible through Wednesday evening in central and southern Florida, the hurricane center said. CBS4-TV reported that at least 10 mobile homes were damaged by a possible tornado on Tuesday in Davie, a Broward County town of 110,000 people 25 miles north of Miami. Another possible tornado was also reported in Broward County.
WHAT IS THE HURRICANE SAFFIR-SIMPSON WIND SPEED SCALE?Scale breakdown of hurricane categories
Heavy rains and flooding spread to Georgia and South Carolina
Heavy rain will spread across the Florida peninsula through Thursday. Widespread and prolonged major and record-breaking riverine flooding is expected in central Florida, the weather service said. Water woes will reach parts of the southeastern United States later this week and weekend.
“Wide and life-threatening catastrophic flooding is expected in parts of central Florida with extensive flooding in southern Florida, northern Florida, southeast Georgia and coastal South Carolina. “, said the service in a notice.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has declared a statewide emergency and said up to 500 National Guard troops are preparing to be called in if needed.
CUBA DEVASTATION:‘Apocalyptic’ photos show Cuba plunged into darkness after Hurricane Ian triggers blackout
Ian puts Cuba in the dark
Cuba remained in darkness early Wednesday after Hurricane Ian knocked out its power grid and devastated homes, businesses and valuable tobacco plantations when it hit the western tip of the island on Tuesday as a storm category 3. Authorities are working to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people, Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement.
“The damage is significant, although it has not yet been possible to report on it. Aid is already flowing in from all over the country,” Cuban President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez said on Twitter. “Rest assured that we will recover.”
Airports, public transport and theme parks prepare for the storm
Airports in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Key West were closed on Wednesday. Orlando International was scheduled to close at 10:30 a.m., and at least 700 outbound and inbound flights were canceled early Wednesday.
Miami-Dade County has suspended Metrobus, Metrorail and other public transit services “until further notice.” Disney World and Sea World theme parks in Orlando all closed ahead of the storm.
A couple from England vacationing in Tampa found themselves battling the storm at a shelter. Glyn and Christine Williams from London were ordered to leave their hotel near the beach when evacuations were ordered. Because the airport closed, they couldn’t catch a flight home.
“Unfortunately all the hotels are full or closed so it looks like we’re going to be at one of the shelters,” Christine Williams said.
Contributor: Sergio Bustos, USA Today Network-Florida; The Associated Press