Hurricane Ian was downgraded to a Category 1 storm at around 11 pm local time Wednesday night as it continued its path around 70 miles south of Orlando moving at eight miles per hour, according to Fox Weather.
The eye of the hurricane made landfall at around 3 pm near the barrier island of Cayo Costa just west of Fort Myers. The storm was expected to move out over the Atlantic coast, and then swing back around to head inland north of Jacksonville.
Chabad Lubavitch of Southwest Florida served as a community shelter for its neighbors, as seen in a video posted by the center’s director, Rabbi Yitzchok Minkowicz.
Some areas of the state were left relatively unscathed, such as Miami and Boca Raton, where yeshivas said they were reopening Thursday morning for a day of learning.
“Baruch Hashem, Southeast Florida was spared from the major impact felt by other areas of the state,” Bais Yaakov of Miami’s Rabbi Ephraim Leizerson wrote in a letter to parents and faculty. “We are keeping the communities affected by Hurricane Ian in our tefillos.”
The storm left more than two million Floridians without power (2,008,150) according to PowerOutage.us. Nearly half a million (444,000) of those who lost power are living in Lee County.
Torrential rains, whipping winds and record storm surge all combined to make Ian an historic hurricane just two miles per hour shy of a Category 5 monster earlier in the day.
One journalist, popular Weather Channel reporter Jim Cantore, was hit by a flying branch as he stood outside reporting on the hurricane.
The airports in Orlando and Tampa were both closed, with flights expected to resume on Friday. A total of more than 5,000 flights were canceled from Tuesday through Friday due to the storm.
Disney theme parks in Orlando were also closed. Flooding from the sheets of driving rain were the primary concern in the city, although heavy gusts also raised the risk of palm trees snapping and flying in the wind. Cape Canaveral saw between 8 and 12 inches of rain in a 12 hour period, according to Fox Weather.
The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia all declared states of emergency in anticipation of “significant storm surge” on their coastlines from the storm.
A declaration of a state of emergency enables governors to waive various regulations, thus enabling different sectors to operate more freely in helping residents and carrying out their tasks.
The rains led to massive flooding in areas hit by the storm – including in Lee County (including the cities of Fort Myers and Cape Coral), where video showed a building housing the sheriff’s office mobile command outreach center was sent floating down a street.
The Lee County, Florida mobile command outreach center has been swept away by floodwaters. Courtesy: Lee County Sheriff. pic.twitter.com/38RruRdSsn
— Dave Bondy (@DaveBondyTV) September 28, 2022
Also in Lee County, flooding forced a local health system, to evacuate the entire first floor of HealthPark Hospital as cars slipped under the flood waters in the parking lot, ABC7 reported.
Entire homes were swallowed by floodwaters in Fort Myers.
The city of Fort Myers issued a 6 pm curfew, to be in effect for 48 hours, “to protect and safeguard the health, safety and welfare of residents, visitors and first responders,” Fort Myers Police said in a tweeted statement.
Flooding in the Gulf coast city of Naples sent some houses, completely submerged, floating down residential streets as well, their red rooves peaking above the raging water.
Naples. Houses are moving pic.twitter.com/nFVY9oP1y4
— reallyryanbush (new acct) (@reallyryanbush) September 28, 2022
The Naples Fire & Rescue Department broadcast live video on Facebook showing the waist-high flooding at their station house.
Naples Fire-Rescue Department posted a Facebook live of the flooding. pic.twitter.com/gq2J9MS3Co
— Lydia Nusbaum (@LydiaNusbaum) September 28, 2022
More than 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, but some chose to remain.