Gov. Ron DeSantis warned residents along the coasts, on barrier islands and in mobile homes to heed evacuation orders, saying as of Tuesday afternoon time remained to find safety inland.
DeSantis gave the update from Lake City as Hurricane Idalia intensified further south, having now passed Cuba and continuing over the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm will likely shift west and strengthen, and DeSantis said the updated models for the National Hurricane Center (NHC) should reflect that. The next update to the NHC model will be at 5 p.m.
“You don’t need to drive hundreds of miles; you don’t need to try to outrun the storm,” DeSantis said. “Just get to higher ground; get into a safe structure.”
He said storm surge potentials will increase as well, especially along the Big Bend coast. Currently, storm surge is expected to hit from 10 to 15 feet in the worst areas, between Levy and Jefferson counties.
Evacuations were previously issued for coastal areas, but DeSantis noted that inland counties will see damage, including power loss and blocked roads. Alachua County issued an evacuation order for mobile homes and areas prone to flooding.
“If you have flooded during previous storms, you need to evacuate,” Alachua County said in a release. “This is a life-threatening situation.”
Alachua County has opened three emergency shelters, including one in Newberry and two in Gainesville. Putnam County has opened a shelter near Hawthorne.
DeSantis said residents should expect power loss at some time. He compared the impact to Hurricane Ian last year. Hurricane Ian hit a heavily populated area with fewer trees to hit power lines and block roads.
The Big Bend region is sparsely populated with lots of wooded areas and forests.
The governor said around 40,000 linemen will be staged and ready by the end of Tuesday, 450 preparation missions had been completed, 250 Starlink devices deployed, and all Florida Urban Search and Rescue teams activated.
The biggest asset may be heavy machinery to clear roads. DeSantis said more than 650 pieces of machinery and trucks were on standby to start cutting trees and clearing roads along with more than 1 million gallons of fuel.
“This storm is going to impact inland counties, and, particularly in northern Florida, you are going to see significant impacts,” DeSantis said. “The contours of that will obviously be determined by the exact path of the storm.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the governor increased the emergency declaration to 49 counties, adding Brevard Orange and Osceola counties.
The city of Gainesville now sits just south of the storms project path, but the cities of Alachua, High Springs and Newberry remain inside the cone of uncertainty. Alachua County said that 66% of the county has the potential for 110 mile per hour winds.