Hurricane Ian continued to batter the Florida peninsula with a catastrophic trifecta of high winds, heavy rain and historic storm surge Wednesday night, even as it weakened to a Category 1 storm, the National Hurricane Centre said.
Amid widespread flooding, property damage, power outages and water-rescue calls, and with the slow-moving hurricane inching inland hours after making landfall along Florida’s vulnerable western coastline, officials across the state continued to issue dire warnings to residents to stay inside.
The storm surge along the west coast of Florida has peaked and is beginning to recede as the storm moves inland, according to the hurricane centre.
However, “water levels are quite high in those areas still and so it will take some time for the water to recede,” Cody Fritz, storm surge specialist at the National Hurricane Centre, warned.
“There’s still plenty of onshore flow along the coast keeping water levels elevated, so while the peak surge values will decrease here relative to previous value, I still expect waters to be up for a while and the need to maintain the storm surge warnings,” Fritz said.
In Collier County, authorities have been inundated with water rescue calls. The Sheriff’s Office said it’s in “call triage mode” and getting numerous calls of people trapped by water.
The storm made landfall as a Category 4 near Cayo Costa around 3:05 p.m., with winds near 150 mph, according to the hurricane centre.
At this point, Hurricane Ian is tied for the strongest storm to make landfall on the west coast of the Florida peninsula, matching the wind speed of Hurricane Charley in 2004. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Wednesday Ian will rank as one of the top five hurricanes to ever hit the Florida peninsula, behind Hurricanes Andrew (1992) and Michael (2018).
Ian weakened to a Category 1 hurricane by Wednesday night as it moved across central Florida, churning sustained winds of 90 mph.
Nearly two million Florida utility customers were without power as of 6 p.m., according to PowerOutage.us. Officials in Cape Coral and Punta Gorda reported significant impacts, and the storm surge set records for the highest water levels ever observed in Fort Myers and Naples. (CNN)