Hurricane Idalia barreled into southern Georgia after hitting Florida’s Gulf Coast with life-threatening storm surges, leaving at least two people dead and hundreds of thousands without power.
More than 275,000 people in Florida were without power as of late afternoon, according to PowerOutage.US. At least two people died in weather-related car crashes in Alachua and Pasco counties, police said. About 190,000 people were without power in Georgia.
At least 30 of Florida’s 67 counties issued some type of evacuation order prior to the storm. People who did not evacuate should shelter in place, according to the state’s emergency management agency.
Idalia made landfall in the morning as a catastrophic Category 3 storm at Keaton Beach on the Big Bend coast, less than 90 miles southeast of the state capital of Tallahassee. The hurricane has since weakened to a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Idalia is expected to weaken further as it moves inland but will remain a hurricane as the storm moves across southeastern Georgia and southern South Carolina this afternoon or evening, according to the latest forecast. Parts of Georgia were bracing for 40- to 50-mile-per-hour winds and floods, according to the National Weather Service in Atlanta.
Residents walk through floodwaters from Hurricane Idalia in Gulfport, Florida, on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.
Juan Manuel Barrero Bueno | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Idalia is expected to become a tropical storm by the time it heads toward the coast of North Carolina on Wednesday night and Thursday, according to the forecast.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday spoke with the governors of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina to offer the federal government’s full support for the emergency response.
Biden approved an emergency declaration Monday for Florida in anticipation of the hurricane making landfall. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed 1,500 federal responders and 540 search and rescue personnel to the affected area in Florida.
Hurricane Idalia comes weeks after devastating wildfires tore through Maui, Hawaii, destroying the historic town of Lahaina and killing at least 115 people and causing billions of dollars in damages.
Biden attributed the frequency of recent natural disasters to climate change. “I don’t think anybody can deny the impact of the climate crisis anymore,” the president said during remarks at the White House.
Workers clean up a blockade at Interstate 75 (I-75) highway after the arrival of Hurricane Idalia, near Gainesville, Florida, August 30, 2023.
Marco Bello | Reuters
“Just look around — historic floods, more intense droughts, extreme heat, significant wildfires have caused significant damage like we’ve never seen before,” Biden said.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said she will travel to Florida Wednesday, where she will meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday to see firsthand how much damage Idalia has left in its wake.
Criswell told reporters during a separate briefing at the White House that it would take several days to get an initial assessment of how much damage Idalia has done.
Idalia swamped coastal towns in western Florida. The river gauge at the small town of Steinhatchee on the Big Bend coast surged from 1 foot to 8 feet in an hour, according to the NWS in Tallahassee. Life-threatening storm surges will remain through the afternoon, according to the NWS.
An aerial view shows a police vehicle driving along a flooded street in New Port Richey, Florida, on August 30, 2023, after Hurricane Idalia made landfall.
Miguel J. Rodriguez Carrillo | AFP | Getty Images
“Don’t mess with this storm, don’t do anything that’s going to put yourself in jeopardy,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a morning press conference.
The Florida National Guard is currently conducting search and rescue operations in Florida’s western coastal counties, said Maj. Gen. John Haas, who leads the force. The Guard is fully mobilized with more than 5,000 service members supporting the emergency response, Haas said at a press conference. South Carolina and Tennessee are sending additional National Guard forces to help with the response, he said.
American Airlines has suspended operations in Tampa; Sarasota; Tallahassee; Gainesville; and Savannah, Georgia, with 167 flights canceled so far. The airline is planning to continue normal operations in Ft. Myers, Key West, Orlando and Daytona Beach.
DeSantis said the Tampa airport will reopen at 4 p.m. Wednesday to incoming flights and fully reopen at 3 a.m. Thursday. Gainesville airport will reopen Wednesday night and Tallahassee airport first thing in the morning, the governor said.