Hurricane Idalia slams into Florida, heads to Georgia

Hurricane Idalia barreled in 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 280,000 people in Florida were without power as of early afternoon, according to PowerOutage.US. At least two people died in weather-related car crashes in Alachua and Pasco counties, police said. 

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 90 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. 

Makatla Ritchter (L), and her mother, Keiphra Line, wade through flood waters after having to evacuate their home when flood waters from Hurricane Idalia inundated it in Tarpon Springs, Florida, Aug. 30, 2023.

Joe Raedle | 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.   

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 National Weather Service in Tallahassee. Life-threatening storm surges will remain through the afternoon, according to the NWS. 

“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.

A truck passes through flooded streets caused by Hurricane Idalia passing offshore in Tarpon Springs, Florida, Aug. 30, 2023.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

DeSantis said Tampa airport will reopen at 4 p.m. today to incoming flights and fully reopen at 3 a.m.. Gainesville airport will reopen tonight and Tallahassee airport will first thing in the morning, the governor said.

President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration Monday for Idalia in anticipation of the hurricane making landfall. The declaration allows the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said she will travel to Florida Wednesday, where she will meet with DeSantis Thursday to see first hand how much damage Idalia has left in its wake.

Criswell told reporters during a briefing at the White House that it will take several days to get an initial assessment of how much damage Idalia has done.

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