The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is prepositioning supplies and personnel at “strategic locations” across three southeastern states before Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Florida.
On Tuesday morning, as Ian battered the island nation of Cuba with sustained winds of 125 mph, FEMA confirmed some 14,000 emergency response workers are poised to respond to the storm, now a Category 3.
That includes 4,000 Florida National Guard members, nearly 3,500 FEMA reservists and more than 7,500 Surge Capacity Force members headed to or already in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
FEMA personnel said the agency is setting up a mobilization center “to expedite forward movement when needed.” It has also deployed two incident management teams and a mobile emergency response support team to the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, plus two task forces and an incident support team to Miami.
President Joe Biden approved Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request for an emergency declaration authorizing FEMA support for the state’s response effort ahead of Ian, clearing the deployment of National Guard troops.
“We know this is going to have major impacts on Florida’s Gulf Coast,” DeSantis said Monday, adding that the Florida Department of Transportation has suspended toll collections in the Tampa Bay area and in Alligator Alley to ease evacuation.
He said more toll waivers will come “if warranted.”
Supplies ordered for staging at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama include 3.5 million liters of water, 3.7 million meals and 6,380 cots. Three mobile communications operations vehicles are also on the way to the air base. Two vehicles are now in Florida.
FEMA has also activated a medical support contract for 52 ambulances and 100 paratransit seats, with resources staged in Orange County and more ambulances and medical air transport vehicles ordered.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers power-restoration team is being deployed to Craig Field in Alabama, where FEMA has pre-staged 117 generators and 128,000 gallons of fuel.
All requested urban search-and-rescue resources are already at their staging areas, FEMA personnel said.
As of noon Tuesday, there are mandatory evacuation orders for Charlotte, Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, as well as part of Manatee County.
Voluntary evacuation orders are in place for Collier, Glades, Highlands and Taylor counties.
FEMA recommends that those living in manufactured homes, including mobile homes and trailers, stay somewhere else when the storm hits “as these types of structures may not withstand hurricane wind or surge damage.”
It’s been more than 100 years since a major hurricane hit the Tampa Bay area. The last high-magnitude storm to strike the region was The Tampa/Tarpon Springs Hurricane, which made landfall Oct. 25, 1921, killing at least eight people and flooding parts of downtown Tampa.
FEMA said Floridians should prepare for power outages by taking inventory of necessary items that rely on electricity, buying batteries and getting alternative power sources, and having enough nonperishable food and water.
Residents with electrically powered medical devices and medicines requiring refrigeration should consult with their medical providers and develop a plan.
Those with pets in areas projected to be heavily impacted should also make plans for where to bring their furry friends, take photos and put together kits, as not all evacuation shelters accept pets.
Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at Jesse@FloridaPolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.