NORTH PORT, Fla. – Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday in Southwest Florida as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the U.S., swamping city streets with water and smashing trees along the coast.
News4JAX reporter Vic Micolucci traveled down I-75 from the Tampa and St. Petersburg area to Bradenton to see the conditions first-hand as Gov. Ron DeSantis told Southwest Florida residents the time to evacuate had passed.
Micolucci said conditions deteriorated rapidly Wednesday as Ian roared ashore with winds and rain increasing minute-by-minute.
Micolucci said he and his photojournalist Chris O’Rourke witnessed a bizarre and eerie phenomenon with a part of Tampa Bay actually dried out because of the tides and Hurricane Ian sucking the water out of the bay. He said every gas station, business and restaurant for 30 miles was closed.
News4JAX then went to North Port and was there as the eyewall of Hurricane Ian came ashore.
North Port police shut down emergency services in the mandatory evacuation zone Wednesday afternoon.
The massive storm was expected to trigger flooding across a wide area of Florida as it crawls northeastward, and at least one sheriff’s office along the coast reported that it was already getting “a significant number of calls” from people trapped in their homes. The hurricane’s center struck near Cayo Costa, a protected barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers.
The Category 4 storm slammed the coast with 150 mph winds and pushed a wall of storm surge accumulated during its slow march over the Gulf of Mexico. The storm previously tore into Cuba, killing two people and bringing down the country’s electrical grid.
About 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate southwest Florida before the storm hit, but by law, no one could be forced to flee. Though expected to weaken as it marched inland at about 9 mph, Ian’s hurricane force winds were likely to be felt well into central Florida.
Ian’s windspeed at landfall tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane to strike the U.S., along with several other storms. Among them was Hurricane Charley, which hit almost the same spot on Florida’s coast in August 2004, killing 10 people and inflicting $14 billion in damage.
The governor said the state has 30,000 linemen, urban search and rescue teams, and 7,000 National Guard troops from Florida and elsewhere ready to help once the weather clears.
Ian made landfall more than 100 miles south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, sparing the densely populated Tampa Bay area from its first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921. Officials warned residents that Tampa could still experience powerful winds and up to 20 inches of rain.
More than 1 million homes and businesses were without electricity, and Florida Power and Light warned those in Ian’s path to brace for days without power.
The federal government sent 300 ambulances with medical teams and was ready to truck in 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water once the storm passes.