TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Hurricane Idalia is projected to hit Florida’s Big Bend on Wednesday morning as a Category 3+ hurricane.
Governor Ron DeSantis held a press conference Tuesday morning to provide the latest updates on the storm’s projected path and state preparations.
“We’ve not really had a hurricane strike this area for a long, long time,” DeSantis said. “I think you have to go back to the 1800’s before you would see a path like this. Those coastal areas there have not necessarily been through this before and I think that being safe is the appropriate thing and erring on the side of caution is the appropriate thing.”
The tropical storm intensified into a hurricane early Tuesday morning as it entered the Gulf of Mexico, with sustained winds exceeding 80 miles per hour. If it hits the Florida coast during high tide, it could bring “life-threatening” storm surges as high as 12 feet.
“You run from the water and you hide from the wind,” the governor said. “If you’re there in that storm surge, you’re putting your life in jeopardy when it gets to be that high.”
More than 20 counties have issued evacuation orders, ranging from Sarasota County to Gulf County. DeSantis said different models have it going further west and “certainly could” hit Tallahassee. School closures have been issued in 42 districts, 16 state colleges and seven state universities.
“Everybody on that Gulf Coast, from Tampa Bay up until Northwest Florida, must remain vigilant,” he said. “If you’re given those orders, please heed those orders. You do not have to leave the state. You don’t have to drive hundreds of miles. You have to get to higher ground and a safe structure.”
To help reduce traffic, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has waived tolls in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough Lake, Pasco, Pinellas and Sumter Counties, as of early this morning.
“You need to take action now… the time is now. I implore you to finalize your disaster preparedness actions right now,” Florida’s Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said. “I want to stress again, even if your community is not in the forecast cone, it does not mean that you’re in the clear.”
DeSantis said the state has already delivered over 430 pallets of water, 300 meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) and 1,200 tarps to communities expected to be most impacted by the storm, with “many more ready to deploy.” The state also has on standby more than 420,000 gallons of fuel, 1,100 generators, 200 ambulances and 580 search and rescue personnel.
More than 20 shelters are already open and an additional 20 special needs shelters are either “mobilizing or on standby.”
Previous update (as of Monday, August 29 at 9 am):
“This is going to be a major hurricane. This is going to be a powerful hurricane and this is absolutely going to impact the state of Florida in many, many different ways,” Governor DeSantis said at a press conference on Monday morning. “I urge Floridians to heed the admonitions and heed the directives from your local officials.”
DeSantis added that evacuation orders will be ordered for all Gulf Coast counties in the zones closest to the shore. On Sunday, the governor declared a state of emergency for 33 counties. That number was bumped up to 46 on Monday.
“If you're anywhere north of Tampa Bay all the way up into Apalachicola Bay, you are going to be impacted by this disaster,” Florida’s Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said. “Storm surge can be life threatening at just two to three feet. Some of these areas are going to experience storm surge well over seven foot.”
Florida’s State Emergency Operations Center is operating 24 hours a day monitoring the storm. School closures have already been announced in Hernando, Citrus, Levy County schools, with more expected to be announced soon.
“Keep in mind, if you’re told to evacuate, you do not need to drive hundreds of miles. You do not need to leave the state of Florida,” the governor noted. “You basically need to go to higher ground. In almost every instance, you can go tens of miles to a shelter, to a hotel, to a friend’s house – whatever works for you.”
DeSantis said tens of thousands of linemen will be “staged and surged,” ready to serve the impacted areas, but noted that power outages are likely inevitable given the storm’s projected strength.
“Floridians in the path of this storm: just be prepared to lose power,” he said. “This is going to come in, if it’s Cat 3+ there’s going to be a lot of trees that are going to get knocked down. There’s going to be a lot of debris that is going to interrupt the power lines. So just understand that is something that’s going to happen.”
In addition to the linemen, DeSantis said 15 tankers and 35 bobtail trucks are headed toward Central Florida with “a couple hundred thousand gallons of fuel” to mitigate potential fuel shortages. The state also has seven urban search and rescue teams ready to deploy to impacted areas.
“We’ll have all these people there that will be able to help everyone get back on their feet,” DeSantis said. “But you’ve got to do what you need to do to protect yourself and your family on the front end.”
The 46 counties currently under a state of emergency include:
- St. Johns