ORLANDO, Fla. — Tropical Storm Idalia is steadily gaining strength and is expected to reach major hurricane status before it reaches the Florida coast.
During a news conference on Wednesday evening, Governor DeSantis mentioned that the Big Bend area in Florida experienced “significant damage.” Still, the rescue efforts’ results were less distressing than last year’s response to Hurricane Ian.
As of 6 p.m., there was only one unconfirmed fatality related to a traffic incident under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Governor DeSantis expressed relief: “Fortunately, the search and rescue operations in the most affected areas have been better than what we experienced during Hurricane Ian. This is certainly good news. We haven’t been receiving the distressing calls we were accustomed to during Ian, at least not to the same extent.”
Kevin Guthrie, the Director of the Division of Emergency Management, reported that rescue crews were still actively in the field on Wednesday evening, and there were no reports of unconfirmed or confirmed fatalities due to drowning or flooding.
“Good news…we are not finding anybody at home, so therefore, as the governor has talked about, many, many people heeded the warning to evacuate,” he said.
During the press conference, the governor mentioned roughly 250,000 power outages, mainly in the counties hit hardest by the storm, such as Columbia, Madison, and Dixie. However, power has been restored to approximately 315,000 households.
Of the 52 school districts closed due to the storm, 30 will reopen on Thursday, and eight will open on Friday. There were 10 evacuated hospitals in the state, and the governor stated that nine of these 10 hospitals would be fully operational within the next 24 hours.
Idalia’s current location?
As of Tuesday afternoon, Hurricane Idalia is approximately 120 miles west of the Dry Tortugas and 275 miles south-southwest of Tampa. It has maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, moving north at 14 mph.
DeSantis visits the affected area.
On Wednesday afternoon, Governor DeSantis went to the areas directly in the path of Hurricane Idalia.
“As you see behind me, there’s a lot of debris, a lot of trees knocked down, you see an eruption of power lines and trees going over power lines,” DeSantis said in Perry, just northeast of the Big Bend coast. “So there’s going to be a lot that’s going to be required to be able to clean this up.”
DeSantis mentioned that the Taylor County sheriff’s office hasn’t received reports of deaths during the storm surge, but this could change as recovery efforts progress.
Regarding reports of looting in Steinhatchee, a town south on the Gulf coast, the governor stated, “We are not going to tolerate any looting in the aftermath of a natural disaster.”
“I’d also remind potential looters that you never know what you’re walking into,” he said. “… You loot, we shoot. You never know what’s behind that door.”
DeSantis mentioned that the Big Bend region hasn’t been directly hit by a hurricane since the 1890s and hasn’t had the opportunity to build stronger infrastructure after storms, as some other places have.
He said, “That’s going to bring some challenges, but I’m thankful for everyone coming together, people stepping up, and I truly appreciate the resilience I see in all these counties.”
— Steven Lemongello
Many flights have been canceled
Orlando International Airport had 130 flights canceled by late Wednesday afternoon, ranking as the second-highest number of cancellations among U.S. and Florida airports.
Tampa’s airport had the highest count at 344 cancellations during Hurricane Idalia’s passage through the Gulf of Mexico. Jacksonville’s airport had 117 canceled flights.
Of the canceled flights to and from Orlando, 52 were by Southwest, 26 by Frontier, 14 by American, and 10 by JetBlue, according to FlightAware.
By late afternoon, Orlando International also experienced 345 delayed flights, with 82 of those being by Spirit.
— Kevin Spear
Orange County is shutting down its shelters.
Orange County is closing its four hurricane shelters and helping residents return to their homes, per a statement from spokesperson Kelly Finkelstein on Wednesday afternoon.
Nineteen residents stayed in the county’s two special needs shelters, and 151 used the other two for the general population.
The county is collaborating with Access Lynx to aid residents with special needs in returning home.
Access Lynx provides door-to-door transportation for individuals with disabilities who can’t use regular Lynx buses.
— Caroline Catherman
Osceola County weathered the storm with minimal impact, and no flooding was reported.
Officials asked Osceola County residents to stay alert but confirmed no damage or flooding, as stated in a press release on Wednesday.
“I am relieved and grateful to report that we have successfully weathered the challenges posed by Hurricane Idalia,” said Viviana Janer, Osceola commission chairwoman, in the press release. “By taking the storm threat seriously and acting responsibly, our residents played an integral role in minimizing the impact of Hurricane Idalia. It’s a testament that we are our strongest when we come together, support one another, and face adversity as a united front.”
Officials stated that there are no concerns about the capacity of Shingle Creek and other storm basins due to minimal rainfall, as mentioned in the release.
Although there was a tornado warning in the Narcoossee area early Tuesday, there were no reports of damage. Osceola County officials are still evaluating the area and the rest of the county.
All traffic signals are working as usual across the county, and no issues were reported at the Osceola County Jail or animal shelter.
Waste management is following its regular collection schedule for residents in unincorporated Osceola County, and the Bass Road Disposal site is open.
Residents are advised to keep storm debris separate from regular household garbage and avoid placing it within 3 feet of fire hydrants, mailboxes, parked vehicles, or utility equipment.
— Natalia Jaramillo
DeSantis and officials discuss challenging recovery
According to Governor Ron DeSantis at a Tallahassee press conference, Hurricane Idalia’s eye has moved away from Florida. However, the aftermath will continue impacting the state as recovery efforts begin.
“The storm’s bands are still impacting the state, and we’re seeing that particularly in the northern part of the state,” DeSantis cautioned at the 12:30 p.m. update.
He mentioned that although there have been unofficial reports of fatalities from local sources, the state hasn’t officially confirmed them.
Up to this point, he stated that over 260,000 customers who lost power have had it restored, while about 250,000 others still don’t have electricity.
All eight urban search and rescue teams are active, and the state National Guard is assisting residents in Taylor County, one of the most severely affected areas.
“They’re getting on scene there to do things like clear major pieces of the roads and get debris that has been knocked around,” he said. “So there’s a lot of moving parts at ground zero.”
According to DeSantis, Tampa International Airport will start accepting incoming flights at 4 p.m. and be fully open by 3 a.m. on Thursday. The Gainesville airport will reopen on Thursday night, and the Tallahassee airport will resume operations early on Thursday.
Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie mentioned that recovery will be tougher in the wooded and rural Big Bend area than in Fort Myers after Hurricane Ian last year.
“In Fort Myers, we were able to clear a lot of houses very quickly because of the footprint of Fort Myers,” Guthrie said. “Up here in the Big Bend, you may have two houses on a five-mile road. So that is going to take a very long time to clear.”
DeSantis didn’t say the state “dodged a bullet” in response to a question about the damage in the region. However, he did mention that the urban area of Tallahassee in Leon County mostly avoided the worst of the storm.
“If we were sitting here last night, we had a track that was bringing it maybe into Leon County, and then they shifted that this morning,” he said. “… I’ve been out there, there’s been rain, and there’s some debris, But nothing like if that wall would have impacted Tallahassee.”
— Steven Lemongello
Many people in Florida still don’t have electricity
As of 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, hours after Hurricane Idalia hit Taylor County, around 268,000 customers across Florida were without electricity, according to poweroutage.us.
Florida Power & Light had the largest number of customers without power, with about 40,000, followed by Duke Energy and the Clay Electric Coop, which had nearly 37,000 outages.
At 9 a.m., about 2,400 customers in Lake County were without power, including both Duke and SECO Energy customers, but by 1:30 p.m., power had been restored to all but 87.
In Orange County, approximately 228 customers had no electricity, mostly Duke customers, with only about 32 Orlando Utilities Commission customers affected.
Around 280 Seminole County customers lost power, with just 22 in Osceola.
According to Duke’s outage map, about a third of the customers without power were in the Tampa Bay area, with another 20,000 along the Gulf of Mexico Big Bend coastline, from the Crystal River area to Perry.
“Many of our customers are still feeling Idalia’s impact,” said Todd Fountain, Duke’s storm director in Florida. “We thank all the first responders and the help we’ve received from other utilities.”
Duke is by far the largest power provider in Central Florida and the second largest in Florida.
— Carolyn Guniss, Steven Lemongello, and Kevin Spear
Kissimmee teams are heading to Tallahassee.
Kissimmee Utility Authority crews were on their way to the state capital to help restore power. They left Kissimmee a little after 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
The utility sent 12 linemen and a group of vehicles to aid in restoring power to approximately 27,000 customers, as stated by KUA. They will work alongside over 200 crews from Louisiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
— Steven Lemongello
Lake County is helping people return home from shelters
According to spokesperson Sarah Lux in an email, Lake County officials reported that the county managed the storm without significant incidents.
They are currently coordinating transportation for shelter residents to return home to Lake County.
The Lake County Office of Emergency Management also noted on Facebook that there is still a threat of locally gusty squalls and tornadoes today.
— Natalia Jaramillo
Expecting displaced animals
Orange County Animal Services Manager Diane Summers mentioned in an email on Wednesday that more animals will likely be surrendered or displaced in the coming days.
The shelter has over 200 dogs and is seeking adopters and fosters to make space for new arrivals. Florida shelters are already full, which adds to the challenge.
You can join the shelter’s foster program by signing up here.
In the meantime, Kent Donahue, a spokesperson from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, cautioned in an email not to approach, feed, or disturb displaced pets or wildlife, especially those sleeping, eating, or caring for their young.
If an unknown animal approaches you, it’s best to remain calm and slowly move away. If bitten, seek medical help and report the bite to animal control or law enforcement for rabies prevention follow-up, as mentioned by Donahue.
— Caroline Catherman
Orlando’s current situation
The City of Orlando experienced minimal impact overnight. The Emergency Operations Center will return to Level 3 activation at 11 a.m. City departments will keep an eye on the storm’s effects and evaluate any damage.
Commercial waste pickup resumed at 8 a.m., and residential storm debris pickup service will restart on Thursday.
City Hall and various facilities, such as Neighborhood Centers and Recreation facilities, will reopen on Thursday for regular business hours.
The Citizen Information Line will be deactivated at 11 a.m. when the Emergency Operations Center returns to Level 3 operations.
— Steven Lemongello
Lynx is resuming operations.
Starting at 9 a.m., all LYNX fixed route and NeighborLink services are back to their regular weekday schedules. There might be small delays as the system fully restores service by 11 a.m.
For ACCESS LYNX, which is for riders with disabilities, only life-sustaining trips are available until Wednesday. Full service with reservations will resume on Thursday. Lynx recommends making appointments as soon as possible.
— Stephen Hudak and Kevin Spear
Update at 7:45 a.m. EDT: Very dangerous Category 3 Hurricane Idalia has made landfall in Florida’s Big Bend. Winds estimated at 125 mph. Catastrophic storm surges and damaging winds continue. — National Hurricane Center
DeSantis cautions about 16-foot surges
Earlier, Governor Ron DeSantis mentioned that Hurricane Idalia was about to make landfall within the next two hours in the Big Bend region, bringing a storm surge of up to 16 feet.
DeSantis emphasized that this storm surge is life-threatening and warned people not to venture outside, saying, “Don’t risk your life by making unwise decisions at this point.”
To emphasize the seriousness of the situation, the power went out at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee while DeSantis was providing an update on the storm. DeSantis remarked, “And there we go with our power here.” Fortunately, emergency generators kicked in about five seconds later.
“And we’re back,” the governor said.
Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie stated that the hurricane was predicted to land at Keaton Beach, the primary beach in Taylor County.
“We are here. We are ready. We will deploy our response recovery teams as quickly as we can,” Guthrie said. “Please rest assured, we will do whatever it takes to help our communities recover from Idalia.”
– Jeffrey Schweers
Forecast for Central Florida
Even though there was a break in the morning, the National Weather Service expects more rain and wind for Central Florida.
Meteorologist Cassie Leahy mentioned that the tropical rain bands from Idalia will likely bring 1 to 2 inches of rain to Orlando, accompanied by sustained winds of 25 to 30 mph and gusts reaching up to 40 mph.
“We could see some gusts a little bit higher, maybe 45 [mph] or so, in those stronger rain bands through this afternoon,” Leahy said.
— Steven Lemongello
A tornado watch is in effect for Central Florida.
The National Weather Service has put out a tornado watch for most of Central Florida early Wednesday as people in the path of Hurricane Idalia start to feel its effects.
The NWS expects a few tornadoes to develop in the counties nearest to Idalia and its feeder bands.
The watch covers Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole, and Volusia counties and will be in effect until 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
Potential threats include isolated hail, up to half an inch in size, and winds reaching up to 75 mph speeds.
— Amanda Rabines and Roger Simmons
SeaWorld’s opening delayed
SeaWorld Orlando theme park will open at noon on Wednesday. Aquatica Water Park and Discovery Cove are closed on Wednesday and will reopen on Thursday.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is closed on Wednesday, and its Adventure Island water park will be closed through Thursday. Tickets for these closed days are automatically extended through Thursday.
Other Central Florida attractions are monitoring the weather, but Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World, and Legoland Florida plan to operate as usual on Wednesday. Universal suspended its early entry benefit for hotel guests for the day.
The Orlando Science Center typically closed on Wednesdays during the school year, will reopen on Thursday.
— Dewayne Bevil
State universities shut down due to Idalia.
Several state universities, including New College of Florida, the University of North Florida, and the University of South Florida, will be closed on Tuesday due to the expected impact of powerful Hurricane Idalia.
– News Service of Florida
Florida public schools are closed
Several public schools in multiple counties, including Alachua, Citrus, Charlotte, Duval, and others, will be closed on Tuesday due to the anticipated impact of powerful Hurricane Idalia.
– News Service of Florida
Rocket launch postponed on the Space Coast
United Launch Alliance had scheduled its second launch of the year for Tuesday at 8:34 a.m. The mission was to carry a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. However, late on Monday, ULA decided to delay the launch.
“Out of an abundance of caution for personnel safety, a critical national security payload, and the approaching [Hurricane] Idalia, the team decided to return the rocket and payload to the vertical integration facility,” ULA stated.
A new launch date will be determined “once it is safe to launch.”
– Richard Tribou