Hurricane Idalia is already causing flooding along Florida's Gulf Coast
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Florida's Gulf Coast is reeling from a major hurricane. Idalia made landfall this morning in the state's Big Bend area. It came ashore as a Category 3 storm with 125-mile-per-hour winds and what's being described as a catastrophic storm surge. Idalia is already flooding communities along the Gulf Coast. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says he believes most people in vulnerable areas evacuated, but he said he is concerned about reports that 100 people remained on Cedar Key, an island already under several feet of water.
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RON DESANTIS: It's a hazardous situation. If you end up with storm surge that even approaches that 16 feet, the chance of surviving that is not great.
MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen is with us now from Saint Petersburg, Fla., to tell us the latest. Greg, hello. Good morning.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: So tell us, what is the latest on the storm?
ALLEN: Well, in the last several hours, as Idalia grew closer to the shore, it grew dramatically. It went through what meteorologists call a rapid intensification. We've seen that a lot in recent years in hurricanes. They're fueled by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico particularly. Idalia came ashore a bit north of Cedar Key, near Steinhatchee. That's in the Big Bend area where Florida's Gulf Coast meets the panhandle. It's a relatively undeveloped area with mostly small towns. At the same time, it's especially susceptible to storm surge. And many of the homes are older, you know, not built to withstand hurricanes. And coming ashore with 125-mile-per-hour winds and a storm surge as high as 16 feet, Idalia is doing a lot of damage right now.
MARTIN: So nearly 30 counties in Florida have issued either voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders. Do you have a sense of whether people in these vulnerable areas did get out?
ALLEN: Well, that's always a major question in a storm like this. Governor DeSantis says despite the reports of the holdouts in Cedar Key and some other areas, he believes the vast majority of people did evacuate from the most vulnerable areas. Last year in Hurricane Ian, many people stayed behind, and dozens of those who did drowned in the storm surge. Idalia's coming ashore in a much less populated area. And there's hope that we won't see the repeat of those numbers that we saw last year.
MARTIN: And what else can you tell us about the impact so far?
ALLEN: Well, we're seeing reports of flooding from storm surge really all along the Gulf Coast, from Fort Myers up to the area where it made landfall. Here in Tampa Bay, where I'm located, we're seeing flooding in many low-lying areas. Police shut off access to Saint Pete Beach because of flooding there. That area was expecting a 4- to 6-foot storm surge and was under an evacuation order. I went - visited there yesterday, and it was clear that most residents had already left. But a bar on the water named Woody's was open. I talked to owner Roxy Riles, who said they plan to be open again today despite a mandatory evacuation order.
ROXY RILES: A lot of the locals aren't leaving. We closed last year and got a lot of complaints, which was surprising. So this year, we're like, you know what? We're staying open. We built the wall. We poured new foundations. We've got new patios. We're ready to go. Everything's bolted down and secured. Were ready.
ALLEN: Riles recently built a new 5-foot flood wall there and made other improvements that she thinks will help the business withstand the storm surge.
MARTIN: I hope she's right.
MARTIN: So tell us what plans officials are making to respond to the storm after it makes landfall.
ALLEN: Florida's emergency management director is warning that search and rescue crews won't be able to respond to calls for help until after the storm passes. In terms of impacts, there's likely to be widespread power outages from downed trees and lines. Tens of thousands of linemen are already out and working to restore power. Officials say 100,000 customers have lost power, but hundreds of thousands more are likely to lose power as Idalia moves through north Florida into Georgia.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Greg Allen in Saint Petersburg. Greg, thanks so much for this reporting.
ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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