Hurricane Ian nears Florida with nearly Category 5 power
Hurricane Ian on Wednesday began lashing Florida's Gulf Coast with powerful winds and drenching rain, prompting authorities to tell residents it was too late to evacuate as the eye of the storm inched toward shore with close to Category 5 power, News.az reports citing Reuters.
At 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT), Ian was around 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Punta Gorda, Florida, with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
That was just shy of a Category 5 designation, which is the most severe storm classification with sustained winds of at least 157 mph, though Ian was expected to weaken after hitting land, the center said.
Forecasters say Ian would unleash wind-driven high surf, torrential rains that may cause coastal flooding of up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) along with intense thunderstorms and possible tornadoes. The storm's outer bands were already bringing heavy winds and rains to much of the Gulf Coast on Wednesday morning.
"I wish this wasn't a forecast that was about to come true. This is a storm that we will talk about for many years to come, an historic event," said Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service.
The hurricane was expected to crash into Florida at about 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) in Charlotte County, about 100 miles south of Tampa and just north of Fort Myers. The region is home to miles of sandy beaches, scores of resort hotels and numerous mobile home parks, a favorite with retirees and vacationers alike.