CEDAR KEY, Fla. (AP) — Hurricane Idalia has made landfall on Florida’s west coast as a dangerous Category 3 storm on Wednesday and was unleashing life-threatening storm surges and rainfall in an area not accustomed to such pummeling.
Idalia came ashore in the lightly populated Big Bend region, where the Florida Panhandle curves into the peninsula.
Florida residents living in vulnerable coastal areas were ordered to pack up and leave as Idalia gained strength in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And those who didn’t were warned to find a safe place while the storm moves through.
“Don’t put your life at risk by doing anything dumb at this point,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “This thing’s powerful. If you’re inside, just hunker down until it gets past you.”
Storm surge could rise as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters) in some places.
The National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Idalia “an unprecedented event” since no major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay abutting the Big Bend. The state, still dealing with lingering damage from last year’s Hurricane Ian, feared disastrous results.
But not everyone was heeding the warning to leave.
Andy Bair, owner of the Island Hotel on Cedar Key, said he intended to “babysit” his bed-and-breakfast, which predates the Civil War. The building has not flooded in the almost 20 years he has owned it, not even when Hurricane Hermine flooded the city in 2016.
“Being a caretaker of the oldest building in Cedar Key, I just feel kind of like I need to be here,” Bair said. “We’ve proven time and again that we’re not going to wash away. We may be a little uncomfortable for a couple of days, but we’ll be OK eventually.”
Idalia had grown into a Category 2 system on Tuesday afternoon and became a Category 3 just hours earlier Wednesday before strengthening to a Category 4 and then weakening slightly to a high-end Category 3. The National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Idalia “an unprecedented event” since no major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay abutting the Big Bend.
Hurricanes are measured on a five category scale, with a Category 5 being the strongest. A Category 3 storm is the first on the scale considered a major hurricane and the National Hurricane Center says a Category 4 storm brings “catastrophic damage.”
Associated Press writers Mike Schneider in St. Louis, Missouri; Marcia Dunn in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Curt Anderson in Orlando, Florida; Chris O’Meara in Clearwater, Florida; Cristiana Mesquita in Havana; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; Tara Copp in Washington; and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.