With 1.6 million people in 22 Gulf Coast counties under evacuation orders, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that residents need to heed local directives as Hurricane Idalia is expected to cause life-threatening storm surge and damaging winds as it takes aim at North Florida’s Big Bend region.
“This storm is going to hit tomorrow morning,” DeSantis said during a news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center. “You will start certainly seeing the effects of this in different parts of the state later on today.”
Better organized and with most of its eyewall formed, Hurricane Idalia was accelerating north Tuesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. Idalia, moving over warm and deep gulf waters, is expected to pick up speed until making landfall as a Category 3 hurricane.
“If you’re told to evacuate, you have time to do that,” DeSantis said. “But you’ve got to do that now. You don’t have to go hundreds of miles. You can go to a shelter in different parts of your county, go to a friend’s house in an area that is not going to be susceptible to the storm surge.”
To help with evacuations, the state has lifted tolls in parts of the state, including in the Tampa Bay region.
State Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said “now is the time for you to finalize your disaster-preparedness actions. Right now.”
The projected storm track shifted a little to the west Monday night, putting potential landfall closer to areas near Tallahassee.
Utilities, including Duke Energy Florida and Florida Power & Light, have more than 25,000 workers stationed to help restore electricity. The state also has activated 5,500 members of the Florida National Guard.
Because of the speed of the system, rescue operations might begin by sunset Wednesday, Guthrie said.
“These are going to be very, very delicate tactical operations. They may be done from the river. They may be done from creeks. They may be done from helicopters,” Guthrie said. “It’s not something we like to do, which is operating in a dark environment with power lines entangled in trees. But, again, we understand that people are probably going to call 911 and need some assistance.”
Schools in 42 counties were closed Tuesday or plan to close Wednesday, along with 16 state colleges and seven state universities.
“The new forecast is similar to the previous one, and confidence is increasing in an extremely dangerous major hurricane making landfall Wednesday along the west coast or Big Bend region of Florida,” the hurricane center said in a morning advisory.
The hurricane center added that as the storm moves inland, Idalia is expected to produce areas of flash and urban flooding, “some of which may be locally significant.”
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