Scared of Hurricane Ian Yet? Watch Florida’s Plight

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Hurricane Ian plunged much of coastal southwest Florida into darkness Wednesday, as the monster storm brought “catastrophic” storm surges, wind and flooding that had officials preparing a huge emergency response. The US Border Patrol said 20 migrants were missing after their boat sank, with four Cubans swimming to shore in the Florida Keys islands and three rescued at sea by the coast guard.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the eye of the “extremely dangerous” hurricane made landfall just after 19:00 GMT on the barrier island of Cayo Costa, west of the city of Fort Myers.

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Some Neighborhoods Resembled Lakes: Dramatic television footage from the coastal city of Naples showed floodwaters surging into beachfront homes, submerging roads and sweeping away vehicles. Some neighborhoods in Fort Myers, which has a population of more than 80,000, resemble lakes. The NHC said Ian was packing maximum sustained winds of 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour when it landed. It later weakened slightly to a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 105 miles per hour, while still battering Florida with “catastrophic storm surge, winds and flooding,” the NHC said at around 9:00 pm local time (0100 GMT).

2 Million Without Power: Almost two million customers were without electricity in Florida Wednesday evening out of a total of more than 11 million, with southwestern areas of the state the hardest hit, according to the PowerOutage.us tracking website. Ian is set to affect several million people across Florida and in the southeastern states of Georgia and South Carolina.

‘Once-in-a-generation Calamity’: 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’s Governor Ron DeSantis said the state was going to experience a “nasty, nasty day, two days.” The town of Punta Gorda, north of Fort Myers, was in near-total darkness as the storm wiped out power, save for the lucky few buildings with generators. Howling winds ripped branches off trees and pulled chunks out of the roofs. 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.

Many Commercial Flights Stopped: Airports in Tampa and Orlando stopped all commercial flights, and cruise ship companies delayed departures or canceled voyages. With up to 30 inches (76 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. The storm was set to move across central Florida before emerging in the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday.

Hurricane Strikes Hospital from Above & Below: Hurricane Ian swamped a Florida hospital from both above and below, the storm surge flooding its lower level emergency room while fierce winds tore part of its fourth floor roof from its intensive care unit, according to a doctor who works there. Dr. Birgit Bodine spent the night at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, anticipating the storm would make things busy, “but we didn’t anticipate that the roof would blow off on the fourth floor,” she said.

Water gushed down Wednesday from above onto the ICU, forcing staff to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients — some of them on ventilators — to other floors. Staff members resorted to towels and plastic bins to try to mop up the sodden mess. The medium-sized hospital spans four floors, but patients were forced into just two because of the damage. Bodine plans to spend another night at the hospital, when incoming storm injuries could make things worse. “The ambulances may be coming soon and we don’t know where to put them in the hospital at this point,” she said. “Because we’re doubled and tripled up.”

With inputs from AFP, AP

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