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After knocking out Cuba's power grid, Hurricane Ian takes aim at Florida

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hurricane Ian has not yet made landfall on Florida's west coast, but already, some people are without power.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The hurricane is now a Category 4, and it's on track to hit Florida's Gulf Coast today, with winds of 140 miles per hour. The National Hurricane Center is predicting life-threatening storm surge. Communities like Sanibel, Fort Myers and Sarasota may see a storm surge of 8 to 12 feet. And 2 1/2 million people are under evacuation orders in several Florida counties.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen is with us now from St. Petersburg, where he's tracking the storm.

Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So these are sobering warnings. And it's now a Category 4. Have people in the most vulnerable areas been evacuated at this point?

ALLEN: It appears largely so at this point. A steady stream of traffic was heading north all day yesterday. Emergency managers ordered evacuations in these low-lying coastal areas. And people don't have to go far - just a few miles inland. Although, I think many people just want to get away as far as they can.

MARTIN: Right.

ALLEN: When I drove around neighborhoods in St. Petersburg in the evacuation zone late yesterday, I really couldn't find very many people around at all. There were a few businesses still open, though. At one 4th Street Pizza, owner Phil Singleton was feeling upbeat because Ian's track has shifted east, likely sparing Tampa Bay from a direct hit. I asked him if he feels like his home is safe.

PHIL SINGLETON: Well, I am on the water, and I did not at all for a long time. But then today, as it continues to track east, if that does hold course, then we should be OK. But if it doesn't and comes north and hits us, then I'm going to be flooded. There's nothing I could have done.

ALLEN: A 4- to 6-foot storm surge is still expected here. And combined with heavy rain - up to two feet in some places - flooding is still expected.

MARTIN: It's so hard for people because the track of the storm could change - you know? - and there's nothing they can do about it. What are the potential effects of a storm this large in this area?

ALLEN: Well, it's so large, it's going to have impacts on really most of the state - almost all of it. The National Hurricane Center says it's - Ian has strengthen as it's approached the coast. High winds are going to cause major damage as it comes ashore, toppling trees, knocking out power and likely cellphone service in some areas. And officials are warning, if there's a lot of damage from flooding and downed trees, restoring power may take some time. Of course, the bigger concern is storm surge 'cause, historically, that's what causes the largest loss of life in a hurricane.

MARTIN: Yeah.

ALLEN: And it can lead to billions of dollars in flood claims. Meteorologists are warning that there's going to be this heavy rain. And that will pose a risk to communities that are far from the coast that might get extensive flooding. In Orlando, Disney and Universal are shutting their theme parks today and tomorrow because of concerns about the storm.

MARTIN: What's the state government's response to this been thus far?

ALLEN: Well, Governor Ron DeSantis has been holding several briefings each day, updating people on the storm and the risks they face and how the state's responding. It's a much different tone than we've seen over the last year, when he's kept up this steady drumbeat of criticism of the Biden administration. DeSantis, of course, is a likely Republican presidential candidate. DeSantis said FEMA and the Biden administration quickly approved his request for a disaster declaration, and he was appreciative.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: So we feel like we have a good relationship with FEMA. You know, I'm happy to brief the president if he's interested in hearing what we're doing in Florida. You know, my view on all this is like, you know, you got people's lives at stake. You got their property at stake. And we don't have time for pettiness. We got to work together.

ALLEN: The White House said the two men spoke last night and committed to continued close cooperation. So they are working together, and we're getting ready for this storm.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen in St. Petersburg.

Thanks, Greg. Take care.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.