Hurricane Ian over the Gulf of Mexico on September 27, 2022.
FEMA Administrator Dean Cresswell on Tuesday urged Florida residents not to underestimate Hurricane Ian and to listen to local officials as a Category 3 storm now approaches the coast.
“Get ready and don’t underestimate the potential this storm can bring,” Cresswell said at a White House briefing, adding that she had concerns about “complacency” among residents, especially those who had never experienced a storm of this magnitude before.
“We’re talking about impacts in parts of Florida that haven’t seen a direct impact in nearly 100 years,” Cresswell said.
The National Hurricane Center upgraded Hurricane Ian to a Category 3 storm Tuesday morning, meaning it could bring winds of up to 125 mph. Some areas are expected to see up to 25 inches of rain, as well as an increase in storm surge, which is expected to reach 10 feet, Cresswell said.
She warned that tornadoes are not uncommon after a storm of this size.
“If local officials are asking people to evacuate, please listen to them,” Cresswell said. “The decision you choose to make may be the difference between life and death.”
As of 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday, the hurricane was about 200 miles off the coast of Sarasota, Florida, traveling at 10 miles per hour with maximum winds of 115 miles per hour, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hurricanes can gain strength quickly.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas grew from Category 1 to Category 4 the next day. In the same year, Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico, moved from Category 1 to Category 5 within 15 hours.
Cresswell said Hurricane Ian was currently expected to make landfall “somewhere between Fort Myers and Tampa.”
“By the time the storm reaches Florida’s shores, the storm will slow down to approximately five miles per hour, which is important because it means that Florida residents will experience the effects of the storm for a very long time,” she added.
Cresswell said FEMA’s biggest concern is the surge in storms. She noted that it is one of the most deadly aspects of storms. Five people were killed as a result of the storm that hit Florida in Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Criswell said she spoke with the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis on Friday, noted that FEMA is working with federal, state, and nonprofit partners to prepare for the storm. President Joe Biden spoke with the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg and Clearwater Tuesday morning.
Criswell said emergency responders had prepared 128,000 gallons of fuel and moved generators nearby to prepare for what’s next. Nearly 4 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water are being organized in Alabama for evacuees, and the Red Cross has set up 29 shelters with an additional 60 shelters ready.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the expected speed of the storm as it reached Florida.