Waffle House closes restaurants in Florida after Hurricane Ian

When Waffle House closes, you know it’s going to be bad.

The popular restaurant chain known for its waffles and hash browns rarely closes, often providing food and resources to first responders during natural disasters.

But once in a while, like this week in Florida, the weather is just too dangerous.

“We have closures in mandatory evacuation areas and low-lying areas that are prone to severe flooding,” Waffle House vice president of public relations Njeri Boss told USA TODAY ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Ian. The hurricane was one of the strongest systems in US history, hitting the west coast of Florida on Wednesday.

As a precaution, the company closed 21 locations across the state of Naples along the Gulf of Mexico about 120 miles north to Bradenton in Manatee County.

On Thursday morning, she told USA TODAY that 14 additional stores had also closed, some without power after heavy rains and high winds, bringing the total number of closures to 35.

“We are working to open them as quickly as safely possible,” Boss said.

The Waffle House Storm Center, a team that mobilizes during severe weather, has been monitoring the storm’s path since Ian became a named storm, Boss said.

Hurricane Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday as it continued to cross Florida, leaving millions without power and causing catastrophic flooding.

Ian inundated entire communities, leaving residents stranded in their homes with sustained winds of up to 150 mph – just 7 mph from a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said at least five deaths have been confirmed in her county. And a 72-year-old man in Deltona died after falling into a canal while using a hose to drain his pool in the pouring rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office reported.

More than 2.6 million homes and businesses in Florida were without power as of Thursday.

Live Updates:Tropical Storm Ian still hits Florida in ‘500-year flood event’; 2.6M without power supply

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The boss said the restaurant was working with local governments and emergency responders around the clock.

“We constantly track storms during hurricane season, tracking their progress when there is an indication that they could make landfall or create significant storm conditions,” she said.

Should I evacuate? How to stay safe as Hurricane Ian approaches the Florida coast

The Federal Emergency Management Agency monitors a “Waffle House Index,” a color-coded indicator of restaurants open, closed or with a limited menu, to gauge how well an area will recover from a hurricane, tornado or some other hazard.

“The Waffle House test simply doesn’t tell us how quickly a business might bounce back — it also tells how the community as a whole is doing,” states a FEMA blog post. “The sooner restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores or banks can reopen, the sooner local economies will start generating income again, signaling a strong recovery for this community.”

‘If we have to move… we will leave’:Floridians talk about preparing for Hurricane Ian

How the Waffle House Index Works

The Waffle House Index has three levels: green, yellow and red.

Green means the store will be fully operational and yellow means restaurants will be open but the menu or power is limited. Red means the store will be closed.

The index was used to predict how badly weather conditions will affect an area.

“Everything else is foreshadowing. Closed Waffle House means things are about to get real,” Twitter used. Ted Vician posted on Wednesday.

“Is Jim Cantore here AND the waffle houses are closed? Get out now”, Twitter user Kate McCrea posted.

Contributor: Jordan Mendoza and Ashley May

Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Contact her at nalund@usatoday.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.

USA Today

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
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