Hurricane Ian pounds Florida as monster Category 4 storm
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The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the eye of the "extremely dangerous" hurricane made landfall just after 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) on the barrier island of Cayo Costa, west of the city of Fort Myers.
Dramatic television footage from the coastal city of Naples showed floodwaters surging into beachfront homes, submerging roads and sweeping away vehicles.
Fort Myers, which has a population of more than 80,000, was also experiencing severe coastal flooding with some neighborhoods resembling lakes.
More than one million customers have already lost power in Florida, a tracking website recorded, with the number expected to rise. Of 11 million customers tracked in Florida, 1.07 million were suffering outages, PowerOutages.us reported.
Packing 155 mph winds, Hurricane Ian is expected to bring serious damage to the coastline of southwest Florida on Wednesday.— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) September 28, 2022
As the storm moves away from the shore, it could cause an additional life-threatening hazard: inland flooding. https://t.co/wr9srDTAtG pic.twitter.com/f1BZJsIFEO
As hurricane conditions spread, forecasters warned of a once-in-a-generation calamity.
"This is going to be a storm we talk about for many years to come," said National Weather Service director Ken Graham. "It's a historic event."
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the state was going to experience a "nasty, nasty day, two days."
- 'Life-threatening situation' -
Punta Gorda, north of Fort Myers, was being pounded by torrential rain and streets emptied as the howling winds ripped fronds off of palm trees and shook electricity poles.
Some 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders in a dozen coastal Florida counties, with several dozen shelters set up, and voluntary evacuation recommended in others.
For those who decided to ride out the storm, authorities stressed it was too late to flee and residents should hunker down and stay indoors.
Footage taken in Fort Meyers, Florida, showed destroyed building debris floating in flood waters as Hurricane Ian continued to hit the state. pic.twitter.com/CeUqcewwM9— Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 29, 2022
Airports in Tampa and Orlando stopped all commercial flights and cruise ship companies delayed departures or canceled voyages.
With up to two feet (61 centimeters) of rain expected to fall on parts of the so-called Sunshine State, and a storm surge that could reach devastating levels of 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 meters), authorities were warning of dire emergency conditions.
"This is a life-threatening situation," the NHC warned.
- 'Nothing is left here' -
"Desolation and destruction. These are terrifying hours. Nothing is left here," a 70-year-old resident of the western city of Pinar del Rio was quoted as saying in a social media post by his journalist son, Lazaro Manuel Alonso.
At least two people died in Pinar del Rio province, Cuban state media reported.
In the United States, the Pentagon said 3,200 national guardsmen were called up in Florida, with another 1,800 on the way.
DeSantis said state and federal responders were assigning thousands of personnel to address the storm response.
"There will be thousands of Floridians who will need help rebuilding," he said.
First-person view of storm surge from Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers Beach, Florida— UberFacts (@UberFacts) September 28, 2022
The camera is 6 feet off the ground‼️https://t.co/bQSF3MkaPT
As climate change warms the ocean's surface, the number of powerful tropical storms, or cyclones, with stronger winds and more precipitation is likely to increase.
The total number of cyclones, however, may not.
According to Gary Lackmann, a professor of atmospheric science at North Carolina State University, studies have also detected a potential link between climate change and rapid intensification -- when a relatively weak tropical storm surges to a Category 3 hurricane or higher in a 24-hour period, as happened with Ian.
"There remains a consensus that there will be fewer storms, but that the strongest will get stronger," Lackmann told AFP.