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Floridians woke up Thursday to flooded homes and uprooted trees as Hurricane Ian battered the Sunshine State with heavy rain and high winds after slamming into it as one of the strongest storms in history the United States.
The storm, which is on the verge of weakening into a tropical storm, is expected to continue lashing the state for most of Thursday before heading into the Atlantic Ocean. National Hurricane Center meteorologists say it will then turn northwest toward Georgia and South Carolina.
The storm made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Wednesday afternoon, flooding parking lots and leaving residents stranded in their homes with sustained winds of up to 150 mph – just 7 mph from a Category 5 hurricane, the stronger on the Hurricane Saffir-Simpson scale. The storm quickly weakened as it moved through Florida and was Category 1 Wednesday night as nearly every home and business in three Florida counties was left without power.
The storm had already hit Cuba, killing two people and destroying the country’s power grid. No injuries or deaths were reported in Florida.
► 2.3 million are without power in Florida, according to PowerOutage.us.
►The US Coast Guard was still searching for more than 20 Cuban migrants after their boat sank in stormy weather near the Florida Keys.
► Ian’s strength on landing matched him for the fifth strongest hurricane when measured by wind speed to hit the United States, it is tied with five other hurricanes that have reached 150 mph – two in Florida, two in Louisiana and one in Texas.
► Residents described the terror after a tornado ripped through a condominium complex near Delray Beach, ripping off roofs and overturning vehicles. “I felt things blowing over my head and my face,” resident Jim Travis said. “When I opened the door, my apartment was destroyed.” Read more.
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HURRICANE IAN TRACKING: Where is Ian going? See the map.
IAN FORECAST: Ian may spend days dumping rain on Florida. Here are the prospects.
Hurricane Ian tracking
As Hurricane Ian continues to pass through Florida on Thursday, USA TODAY’s The Hurricane Ian tracker will remain up-to-date and provide the latest insight into the direction of the storm.
Parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast suffered significant damage as Hurricane Ian swept through the state, damaging buildings and homes and inundating communities.
Water poured through the streets of Naples, creating giant waves that made roads impassable and flooded the city’s fire department. Video posted by Naples Fire-Rescue showed crews working to recover equipment and fire trucks from more than 3 feet of water. In Cape Coral, about 30 miles off the coast, photos showed a sailboat stranded in the middle of a road near homes.
Nearby Fort Myers experienced intense storm surge flooding coastal communities and the area around WINK News, a local CBS affiliate. Videos showed water reaching the windshields of cars in the studio parking lot and some of the storm surge that infiltrates the building.
Further north along the coast, an intense storm surge flooded the lower level emergency room of a hospital in Port Charlotte, while high winds ripped off part of the roof of its intensive care unit, according to a doctor who works there.
Water gushed from above onto the ICU, forcing staff to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients – some of whom were on ventilators – to other floors, said Dr Birgit Bodine of the HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital. Staff members used towels and plastic bins to try and mop up the soggy mess.
Officials warned that flash flooding was possible across the state, which could lead to pollution and an overflow of radioactive waste.
What is the wind speed scale? :Break down the wind speed scale for hurricanes.
How Does Hurricane Ian Compare? :Category 5 hurricanes are rare. Ian’s punch the worst the United States has seen?
Contributor: Kate Cimini, USA Today Network-Florida; Associated Press