Gov. DeSantis: Catastrophic flooding, life-threatening storm surge expected along Gulf Coast

“Mother Nature is a very fearsome adversary,” DeSantis said.

Gov. DeSantis urges Floridians not to panic buy

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis said residents along the Gulf Coast, especially in Southwest Florida, can expect “catastrophic flooding” and a “life-threatening storm surge” when Hurricane Ian hits.

Hurricane Ian continues to intensify, and the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday the storm has increased to a Category 3 major hurricane. It is expected to reach Category 4 strength in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall in Southwest Florida, possibly as a Category 3.

LATEST UPDATE: Ian now a Category 3 major hurricane, continues to batter Cuba

DeSantis said the latest models have the storm making landfall in the Sarasota area, which has prompted evacuation orders across the Tampa Bay region. DeSantis said during an evening news conference more than 2.5 million Floridians were under evacuation orders in the state, including Clay and St. Johns counties. He also reiterated that millions of residents in the middle and northern regions of the state could also see power outages and flooding due to heavy rainfall in the coming days.

“Just understand the impacts are going to be far, far broader than just where the eye of the storm happens to make landfall. In some areas, there will be catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surge. So if you’re on Florida’s Gulf Coast, from Naples all the way through the Tampa Bay area and some of the counties north of that, that could be something that happens and will certainly happen in some parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast,” DeSantis warned.

DeSantis said the state activated emergency lane use on Interstate 4 east heading out of the Tampa Bay area to help people evacuate quickly. During a late night news conference, DeSantis said traffic returned to a normal flow and that the emergency lane was discontinued, but could return.

During his news conference in Tallahassee on Tuesday morning, DeSantis compared Hurricane Ian to Hurricane Charley which hit the same region in 2004.

MORE: Schools in Baker, Columbia, Putnam counties to close due to Ian. Here’s where other Florida districts & colleges stand

News4JAX Chief Meteorologist John Gaughan said Hurricane Charley was a storm similar to Ian, tracking out of the Caribbean Sea and heading north. Charley was predicted to come ashore as a Category 2, maybe a 3 near Tampa Bay. Once crossing Cuba, Charley exploded and tracked slightly east of north, coming ashore near Naples. As Category 4 powerhouse, it never really unwound and left a swath of hurricane-force winds and damage across the entire state.

DeSantis said unlike Charley, which battered the state with strong winds, flooding and storm surge will be the main issue with Ian.

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“There’s certain things we can protect against in terms of the wind and the structures, and we’ve got great building codes, but when you have five to 10 feet of storm surge, that is not something that you want to be a part of. And Mother Nature is a very fearsome adversary,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis urged residents in the area and throughout the state to listen to evacuation warnings and head to higher ground.

RELATED: Ian’s impact on Jacksonville: Heavy rains, probable flooding and power outages

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A tornado watch was in effect for a huge swath of South Florida until 5 p.m.

Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said the state is moving additional resources to Southwest Florida, including rescue teams. Guthrie said some residents could be without power for up to seven days depending on the situation so residents should do things like stock up on food, batteries, medicine and cash.

“The time is now. You must evacuate now,” Guthrie said to those under evacuation orders Tuesday evening. “There will be a point in time where you will not be safe to travel the roads. The time to evacuate is now.”

The division has activated the state assistance information line to provide additional resources for Floridians to receive up-to-date information regarding Hurricane Ian. Residents and visitors can call the toll-free line at 1-800-342-3557.

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