Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm over Florida’s west coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm knocked out power to at least 1.8 million people in Florida, according to the Associated Press.
The National Hurricane Center downgraded the storm to a Category 3 hurricane at 8 p.m. with maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour, centered about 95 miles southwest of Orlando, Orange County.
“We have asked all of our residents to begin the on-site placement process,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said at a news conference. “You shouldn’t be on the streets going around the community at this time.”
Orlando was under a hurricane warning and the National Weather Service said conditions would “deteriorate tonight.” The agency said: “Winds from TS to hurricane force are expected. The threat of significant to catastrophic flooding is expected to develop tonight.”
“There is no question that we are now feeling the effects of this hurricane, and we have yet to see the worst,” Demings said.
“Widespread, life-threatening catastrophic lightning and urban flooding is expected to continue with major flooding along rivers throughout central Florida,” the National Hurricane Center said in an update.
Technicians monitor Hurricane Ian at the National Response Coordination Center at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters September 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. Hurricane Ian is nearing Category 5 status with sustained winds of 155 mph as it heads towards the southwest coast of Florida.
Kevin Dietsch | News from Getty Images | Getty Images
The storm first hit near Cayo Costa, Fla., with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, the center said on Twitter. Just a few hours later, it hit Punta Gorda near Pirate Harbor.
Hurricane Ian intensified sharply as it approached land, reaching winds of 155 miles per hour and nearing the most dangerous Category 5 classification Wednesday morning. Hurricane-force winds were 35 miles from center and winds more tropical, according to the National Weather Service Storm force 150 miles from downtown.
“It’s going to be a bad, bad day, two days,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news conference early Wednesday. Officials in Florida and nationally are closely following the storm’s movements.
A fallen tree lies across the street after being toppled by the winds and rain from Hurricane Ian on September 28, 2022 in Sarasota, Florida.
Joe Raedle | News from Getty Images | Getty Images
More than 2.5 million people in Florida were under mandatory evacuation orders, but no resident can legally be forced to leave their homes. DeSantis said the highest-risk areas in the state range from Collier County to Sarasota County and it is no longer safe for residents in those counties to evacuate.
“Do what you have to do to stay safe. If you are where this storm is approaching, you are already in dangerous conditions. It’s going to get a lot worse very quickly. So please squat down,” he said.
Rainfall near the storm’s landfall could exceed 18 inches, and storm surges could push up to 18 feet of water across nearly 100 miles of shoreline, according to the National Hurricane Center. The National Weather Service has also issued the highest possible wind warning for several regions in Florida in anticipation of extreme wind damage from the storm. But forecasters were most concerned about the flooding.
Hurricane Ian approaches the west coast of Florida on September 28, 2022.
“Water. We need to talk about the water,” National Weather Service director Ken Graham warned. “90% of deaths in these tropical systems come from water. It’s the storm surge, it’s the rain.”
Much of Florida’s west coast is already experiencing significant storm surges, as whipping winds and high water levels have blanketed the streets of cities like Fort Myers. The city wrote on Twitter that it was experiencing wind gusts of up to 77 miles per hour and urged residents to “PLEASE stay indoors.” It warned that conditions will continue to escalate throughout the day.
For residents who are still able to evacuate, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern encouraged them to follow their elected officials’ evacuation orders and bring essential medication, documents and other items, such as eyeglasses.
“Check on your neighbors and please don’t wait for the storm when you’re told to evacuate – it’s dangerous,” she said in a news conference on Wednesday.
Gov. DeSantis said the state has 42,000 linemen, 7,000 National Guard troops from Florida and elsewhere, and city search and rescue teams ready to help when the storm passes.
Commercial vehicles are parked on a rural property in The Villages of Sumter County, Florida on Wednesday morning, September 28, 2022 in preparation for Hurricane Ian.
Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP
According to NBC News, the hurricane left all of Cuba without power after battering the island on Tuesday. At least two storm-related deaths were reported in Cuba on Wednesday.
As the storm continues to batter the Florida coast, the National Hurricane Center issued new watches and warnings for parts of North Carolina and South Carolina.
Hurricane Ian can even be seen from the International Space Station, with onboard cameras capturing footage of the storm as it looms over Florida.
The view of Hurricane Ian from cameras on the International Space Station as the orbiting research lab flew past the storm at approximately 3:00 p.m. ET on September 28, 2022.
Even after the storm has passed, DeSantis said it may not be entirely safe to go outside. He urged residents to watch out for downed power lines, standing water and fallen trees.
President Joe Biden told Florida residents Wednesday he will support them “every step of the way” through the storm.
“We will be there to help you clean up and rebuild to get Florida moving again,” he said.
Candy Powell, an East Orlando resident, has lived in Florida since 2016 and has watched the state’s exposure to hurricanes like Irma, Dorian and Matthew. She said she felt there was less time to prepare for Hurricane Ian, but she was trying to remain calm for her neighbors.
“I think a lot of people who just moved to Florida were really, really stressed,” she told CNBC. “I kind of try to be the calming factor. Even when I went to the store yesterday, I actually only had to buy almost normal groceries. The shelves were empty. There were hardly any canned goods left.”
Powell can tell the storm is increasing, and she said she’s already noticing rushing winds and heavy rain.
Palm trees sway in winds from Hurricane Ian on September 28, 2022 in Sarasota, Florida. Ian is likely to hit the area as a Category 4 hurricane.
Joe Raedle | News from Getty Images | Getty Images
Flannery Dziedzic, who lives in Naples, said she’s also noticed the wind picking up in her area. She said her energy went in and out and a piece of debris hit her window while on the phone with CNBC.
The storm appears to be bigger and more intense than hurricanes she’s dealt with in the past, she said, but being six miles offshore she feels “fairly safe.”
“I feel like Floridians are really resilient,” she said.
NBC News contributed to this report
This story is evolving, please check back for updates.