Hurricane Idalia tracked toward southeast Georgia after hitting Florida’s Gulf Coast with life-threatening storm surges, killing at least two and leaving 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 have died in weather-related car crashes in Alachua and Pasco counties, police said.
At least 30 of Florida’s 67 counties issued evacuation orders ahead of the storm. People who have not been evacuated should shelter in place, according to the state 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 into southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina this afternoon. or tonight, according to the latest forecast.
The storm is expected to weaken into a tropical storm as it tracks toward the North Carolina coast Wednesday night and Thursday, according to forecasts.
The river gauge in the small town of Steinhatchee on the Big Bend coast rose from 1 foot to 8 feet in an hour, according to the Tallahassee National Weather Service. Life-threatening storm surges will persist through the afternoon, according to the NWS.
Makatla Ritchter (left) and her mother, Keiphra Line, walk through floodwaters after having to evacuate their home when floodwaters from Hurricane Idalia inundated it in Tarpon Springs, Florida on August 30, 2023.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
“Don’t mess with this storm, don’t do anything that will put you in danger,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at an early morning press conference.
Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey told NBC News that Idalia is expected to be the biggest storm to hit Florida’s state capital in history. “Stay home and stay safe,” Dailey said.
The Florida National Guard is currently conducting search and rescue operations in West Florida’s coastal counties, said Maj. Gen. John Haas, who leads the force. The Guard is fully mobilized with more than 5,000 troops supporting the emergency response, Haas told a news conference. South Carolina and Tennessee are sending additional National Guard forces to help with the response, he said.
A truck drives through flooded streets caused by Hurricane Idalia off Tarpon Springs, Florida on August 30, 2023.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
American Airlines suspended operations in Tampa; Sarasota; Tallahassee; Gainesville; and Savannah, Georgia, with 167 flights canceled so far. The airline plans to continue normal operations at Ft. Myers, Key West, Orlando and Daytona Beach.
DeSantis said the Tampa airport will reopen at 4 p.m. today to inbound flights and fully reopen at 3 a.m. Gainesville airport will reopen tonight and Tallahassee airport early in the morning, the governor said.
President Joe Biden on Monday approved an emergency declaration for Idalia ahead of the hurricane making landfall. The declaration will allow the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.