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Storm/emergency experts urge Floridians to heed evacuation calls ahead of Hurricane Ian

Peak storm surge forecast for Hurricane Ian from the National Hurricane Center as of 2 p.m., Sept. 26
National Hurricane Center
Peak storm surge forecast for Hurricane Ian from the National Hurricane Center as of 2 p.m., Sept. 26

As Florida braces for impacts from Hurricane Ian, storm and disaster experts urge people to follow evacuation orders when given, and to expect storm impacts well beyond the center of the storm.

Mandatory evacuation orders are already in place for hundreds of thousands of people in the Tampa Bay area where the National Hurricane Center is warning of the possibility of up to 10 feet of storm surge.

During a conference call Monday with broadcast stations throughout Florida, National Hurricane Center acting Director Jamie Rhome warned residents of Southwest Florida to stay vigilante because the size of Ian is forecast to expand rapidly as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico, meaning impacts will be felt well beyond the center of the storm.

“The narrative is going to be centered on Tampa and people are going to forget about places farther south,” said Rhome.

“Even if the center is up near Tampa, the onshore flow to the south of Ian will pile water up the Southwest coast of Florida and you could see three, four, five feet of water well removed, well removed from the center.”

Forecasters are calling for the potential of storm surge flooding of five to eight feet from Englewood in Charlotte County to Longboat Key in Sarasota; storm surge of four to seven feet from Englewood to Bonita Beach in Lee County, and up to three to five feet of storm surge from Bonita Beach to East Cape Sable in Monroe County.

Rhome said some models indicate Hurricane Ian could stall as it approaches the Florida coastline.

“If it does in fact stall, we could get a double whammy where you’ve got heavy rainfall lingering over an area while storm surge is pushing up some of the same rivers that the rainwater is trying to get out of and that could be especially problematic and dangerous if it sets up that way,” said Rhome.

Former FEMA administrator and former Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate was also on the call Monday, urging residents in an evacuation zone to heed the order and to evacuate early.

“That’s going to be a message the state wants to have consistently across all these areas. When local officials say its time to go, we want to spend most of our time talking about the folks that need to evacuate,” said Fugate.

“We’d rather have too many people evacuate than anybody think that they’re okay and they don’t evacuate that’s in a danger zone.”

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