Less than 24 hours before Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, and a day after other adjacent counties issued similar orders, Lee County officials ordered the first mandatory evacuations, and Governor Ron DeSantis stated they responded appropriately.
On Saturday, the governor warned reporters in Fort Myers that the hurricane was predicted to hit the panhandle. “They were following the data,” he said. Monday rolled around, and speculation shifted to the area above Tampa Bay.
Before we went to sleep on Monday night, news reports said, “This is a direct impact on Tampa Bay, this is the worst-case situation for the state.” They (Lee County authorities) called for the evacuation, opened their shelters, and responded very rapidly to the data as soon as that track began the shift south and the computer models the next morning.
However, by the end of the day on Sunday, at the 11 a.m. alert, 72 hours out, Fort Myers and Naples weren’t even in the cone. That’s how it is, and they stuck to it religiously,” he continued. The forecasters utilize the cone of uncertainty to depict the expected location of the storm’s center.
Oftentimes, storms have effects that go beyond the cone. At least 66 deaths in Florida, most of them in Lee County, have been linked to Ian. There were 35 fatalities, according to the sheriff. Officials report that 12 people died in Charlotte County, eight in Collier County, five in Volusia County, three in Sarasota County, one in Polk County, one in Lake County, and one in Manatee County.
On Saturday, DeSantis addressed the criticism leveled at Lee County officials for their handling of the evacuation orders. These comments were similar to ones he made at an earlier news conference in Lee County, where he defended the government’s reaction and said that local communities “sprang into action” when forecasts indicated the storm would move south.
Officials in Lee County, Florida, delayed issuing an evacuation order, which may have contributed to catastrophic consequences as the death toll from Hurricane Ian continues to climb. https://t.co/GLkVNxiNx9
— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 1, 2022
Landfall for Hurricane Ian occurred on Wednesday at Cayo Costa in Lee County, a place that was inside the cone 72 hours prior to the storm’s landfall and in all of the other dozens of cones issued for the storm. The cone did not encompass Fort Myers or Naples three days before the storm made landfall.
On Tuesday around 5:20 p.m. ET, the Lee County government tweeted that everyone in Zones A and B (which include the hardest damaged coastal neighborhoods) must leave their homes immediately.
Lee County had a meticulous plan to help officials decide when to evacuate. We have a copy. Here is an excerpt.
If forecasts indicate a 10% chance of a 6-foot surge, the county proposes evacuations near the water (zone A). Higher surges or probabilities = more evacuations.
— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) October 1, 2022
Pinellas County issued a mandatory evacuation order Monday at 6 p.m. ET for Zone A, and in the same post said that Zones B and C will be subject to the same order beginning Tuesday at 7 a.m. ET. Manatee County also announced an evacuation for Tuesday at 8 a.m. ET in a Facebook post on Monday.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County declared on its Facebook page that residents of Zone A must leave their homes on Monday at 2 p.m. ET. On Monday, officials in both Sarasota and Charlotte counties held press conferences and released evacuation orders for parts of their respective counties due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma.
Liston Bochette, a councilman in Fort Myers, was interviewed by CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday and asked about the amount of time he and his neighbours were given to evacuate. Lee County is home to Fort Myers. The odds of something happening after being warned are “around one in 10,” Bochette told Acosta.
You know this is the one and only time. Additionally, not everyone left when they should have. And I think we’re lulled into passive thinking that it’s not going to affect us because this is a small paradise corner of the earth.