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Ian devastates Central and South Florida

Tropical Weather Florida
Wilfredo Lee
An uprooted tree, toppled by strong winds from the outer bands of Hurricane Ian, rests in a parking lot of a shopping center, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Cooper City.

Hurricane Ian slammed into Southwest Florida Wednesday, making landfall at 3:05 pm near Cayo Costa – an island off the coast near Fort Myers – packing 150 mph sustained winds. Meantime, preparations are underway to begin recovery efforts once it’s safe.

“I've already talked to a lot of the locals. They know where they need to look to see the damage assessments, to look to see where people may be in harm's way,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis at his midday briefing in Tallahassee. “Obviously, folks at the state level are going to be doing the same thing.”

He said with the major storm, there’s also a massive surge of people, from Florida and 27 other states, poised to go in and provide help.

“Their job is to get in there and help to restore services; you're also going to have folks bringing in things like food and water,” DeSantis said. “There's going to be a lot going on in the immediate aftermath, and a lot of people safety depends on that. If you're on the roads, you're putting yourself in danger. And limiting the ability of emergency crews to restore power and clean debris.”

The Florida Department of Transportation will work to clear roads of downed trees and debris, and the governor says that will help open the gates for assistance.

“Supplies will be brought in by plane, boat and by high water vehicle,” he said. “Airports in southwest Florida do have teams behind and they are going to work to clear those runways as soon as the storm has passed.”

Add to that more than 5,000 Florida National Guard troops, and another 2,000 from other states.

“They have nine Chinook helicopters ready to go; an additional 22 helicopters will be coming in after landfall that will be here within the next 24 hours,” said DeSantis. “We have the five urban search and rescue teams, high water vehicles from Florida Highway Patrol and, of course, our Coast Guard partners.”

Massive electricity outages — the signature of a major storm — were expected and preparation began months ago. That from Florida Power and Light CEO Eric Silagy.

“And now we're deploying those everything from tens of thousands of poles to breakers to transformers to thousands of miles of wire,” he said. “We have secured those resources, and we will be deploying those throughout our service territory.”

When Ian is gone, FP&L has will deploy about 19,000 personnel from 37 sites. They’re from Florida and almost 30 other states, and will work in shifts 24/7 to restore power after teams go in and assess the damage.

“We will do that quickly — both with people on the ground and utilizing our many, many drones that we have in our fleet,” Silagy said. “So we can get eyes on the situation as quickly as possible, assess the damage and start getting the right people, the right equipment, the right resources at the right place as quickly as possible.”

Meantime, Florida’s interstate highways are seeing heavier traffic moving to the north and west, away from Ian’s target areas.

“We understand that there was probably about a 40%-50% increase in traffic from the I- 75 corridor traveling west,” said Lt. Jason King at the Florida Highway Patrol. “As we get to our area, I think we've seen between 38%-42% increase in traffic [which] was the last estimation.”

FHP is working with the state Department of Transportation in monitoring the roads. King also has a request for those in the mostly-unaffected Panhandle when it comes to dealing with the extra vehicles.

“Give grace, be kind and be understanding,” said King. “Because we've been in this situation before of panic and fear and anxiety and worry, and people's emotions get heightened. So we just ask: give understanding. And if you can, find an alternate route to work that will take you off the interstate.”

King adds, if you see someone needing help, lend an hand if possible. And as the practice during major holidays, all available troopers will be trading their desks for cruisers for the duration.

The National Hurricane Center forecasts that Ian will creep across Central Florida and exit into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.