Powerful Hurricane Ian swept across Florida on Wednesday, its high winds and torrential rains having already caused “catastrophic” flooding and widespread power outages. Slightly away from 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, with three rescued and four others managed to swim to shore.
Hurricane downgraded to Category 1
Carrying winds of up to 185 km/h, Ian made landfall along the coast of Cayo Costa, in the southwest of the state, at 3:05 p.m. local time (19:05 GMT), according to the National Center for American hurricanes (NHC).
The hurricane caused “catastrophic” flooding, the center said. Previously classified in category 3, out of the 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, Ian was downgraded to category 1, the NHC announced around 03:00 GMT.
More than 2 million homes without electricity
More than 2 million homes were without electricity Wednesday evening in Florida, mainly around the path of the hurricane, according to the specialized site PowerOutage. Several counties near where Ian made landfall were almost entirely without power, according to the site.
The town of Punta Gorda thus plunged into darkness. In the night, only a few buildings equipped with generators remained illuminated, the only sounds around being the roar of the wind and the pouring rain.
A few hours earlier, the city had experienced a brief respite as it found itself in the eye of the hurricane. But the squalls and the rain came back with even more force, toppling road signs and washing away pieces of roofs and tree branches.
In Naples, in southwest Florida, images from the MSNBC channel 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.
The weather phenomenon should then move inland during the day, and emerge over the western Atlantic by Thursday evening, according to the NHC. Hurricane Ian is expected to weaken as it passes inland, but could still cause significant damage as it reaches eastern Florida, he said.
“One of the five strongest hurricanes to ever hit Florida”
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 earlier hit Cuba on Tuesday, killing two people and plunging the island into darkness.
With global warming, intense hurricanes are increasing
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 that the biggest ones will be more intense,” the scientist told AFP.