PUNTA GORDA: The “extremely dangerous” Hurricane Ian was sweeping across Florida on Wednesday, its high winds and torrential rains having already caused “catastrophic” flooding and widespread power outages.
South of the hurricane’s path, near the Keys archipelago, poor conditions caused a boat carrying migrants to capsize, and the Coast Guard was looking for another 20 people, three having been rescued and four others having managed to swim to the shore.
Carrying sustained winds of up to 220 km/h, Ian made landfall along the coast of Cayo Costa, in the southwest of the state, at 3:05 p.m. local time (1905 GMT), according to the National Hurricane Center. American (NHC).
The hurricane on Wednesday caused “marine submersion, winds, and catastrophic flooding in the Florida peninsula”, the center said.
In Naples, southwest Florida, images from MSNBC showed completely flooded streets and cars floating in the current.
In the city of Fort Myers, flooding was so severe that some neighborhoods looked like lakes.
The flood could sometimes exceed 3 meters, announced Wednesday evening the governor of the State, Ron DeSantis.
More than 1.5 million homes were without electricity in the early evening in Florida, mainly around the passage of the hurricane, according to the specialized site PowerOutage.
Several counties near where Ian made landfall were almost completely without power, according to the site.
The weather phenomenon has already devastated western Cuba in recent days, and is then expected to move inland during the day, and emerge over the western Atlantic by Thursday evening, according to the NHC.
The streets of Punta Gorda in the south of the state, where a few passers-by were still walking at noon, had suddenly emptied Wednesday afternoon, as the sky turned greyish and the showers intensified, saw AFP journalists.
Strong winds tore off the branches of many palm trees in the center, even making the electric poles wobble, the cyclone still being about forty kilometers from the city.
“The closer he gets, the higher the anxiety obviously rises with the unknown,” observed Chelsea Thompson, 30, who was helping her parents secure their home Tuesday in an evacuation zone southwest of Tampa earlier.
Hurricane Ian is expected to weaken as it passes inland, but could still cause significant damage as it reaches eastern Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Governor Ron DeSantis said Wednesday evening that it would probably be “one of the five strongest hurricanes to ever hit Florida”.
“This is a storm that will be talked about for many years to come,” NWS Director Ken Graham said at a press conference.
Fema (the federal disaster relief agency) director Deanne Criswell said Ian would continue to be a “very dangerous” storm for “the days to come”.
Hurricane Ian, then in category 3, had earlier struck Cuba on Tuesday, killing two people and plunging the island into darkness.
As the surface of the oceans warms, the frequency of the most intense hurricanes, with stronger winds and greater precipitation, increases, but not the total number of hurricanes.
According to Gary Lackmann, professor of atmospheric sciences at the State University of North Carolina, in the United States, several studies have demonstrated a “possible link” between climate change, and a phenomenon known as “intensification rapid” – when a relatively weak tropical storm strengthens into a Category 3 or greater hurricane within 24 hours, as was the case with Ian.
“A consensus remains that there will be fewer storms in the future, but the larger ones will be more intense,” the scientist said.