PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Emergency management officials are urging all Florida residents, especially those who are new to the area, to be prepared for a potential hurricane. Tropical Storm Ian, which rumbled through the Caribbean on Sunday, is expected to continue gaining strength and become a major hurricane in the coming days.
“It’s nerve-racking, but I think coming from California, we have earthquakes and you can’t really predict those. And with this, you have a little bit more predictability so it’s nice to at least have that kind of sense of preparedness ahead of time,” said Addie Padgett, who just moved to the area a few weeks ago.
A big concern this season is all of Florida’s new residents who have never experienced a hurricane.
“It’s a concern because they may not understand the risks of a hurricane,” said Pinellas County Emergency Management Director Cathie Perkins. “It’s really important that all of our residents, not just our new ones lookup their evacuation zone so whether you need to evacuate. People need to understand how evacuations work, that there will be an evacuation order issued by their local office of emergency management and that we need people to heed those evacuations.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency throughout Florida and urged residents to ready for a storm that could lash large swaths of the state with heavy rains, high winds and rising seas.
“We encourage all Floridians to make their preparations,” DeSantis said in a statement.
On Friday, people were flocking to stores in Pinellas County (on Florida’s west central coast) to stock up on the essentials, like cases of water
“There’s a lot of water. There’s no limit right now. But, there are some people are coming out with like six or seven cases of water,” said Heather Sampson, who made sure to get water and other supplies before the rush.
“It’s better just to be prepared and get a little bit of extra food and water just in case you have to hunker down for a couple of days,” said David McCann, who grabbed extra water for his family and neighbors.
President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property.
The National Hurricane Center issued an updated advisory at 5 a.m. Sunday, which noted the tropical storm was forecast to begin “rapidly strengthening later today” with the “risk of significant wind and storm surge impacts increasing for western Cuba.”
Ian was expected to become a hurricane Sunday and a major hurricane as soon as late Monday. The storm had top sustained winds of 50 mph on Sunday morning as it swirled about 345 miles southeast of Grand Cayman, in the Cayman Islands.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.