The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center says the storm was centered west of Savannah, Georgia on Wednesday afternoon and had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. Hurricane-force winds are blowing at least 74 mph.
Idalia landed early Wednesday with winds of 200 km/h, devastating a large part of the Gulf coast, submerging homes and vehicles, turning streets into rivers, mooring small boats and destroying power lines before sweeping the Georgia.
Nearly 438,000 customers in Florida and Georgia lost power as rushing waters blanketed streets near the coast. As the eye moved inland, high winds shredded panels, blew sheet metal and snapped tall trees.
Idalia hit the sparsely populated Big Bend region, where the Florida Panhandle curves into the peninsula. It made landfall near Keaton Beach at 7:45 a.m. as a high-end Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 125 mph (205 km/h).
No deaths from the storm were confirmed in Florida as of midday Wednesday, although fatal traffic accidents in two counties may be linked to the storm, Florida Governor Ron said. DeSantis said at a press conference.
A 59-year-old man driving a pickup truck in heavy rain ran off the road outside Gainesville. In Dade City, north of Tampa, a 40-year-old man lost control of his pickup truck and crashed into a tree, authorities said.
State officials, 5,500 National Guard members and rescue teams were in search and recovery mode, inspecting bridges, clearing fallen trees and searching for anyone in distress in one of the most rural parts of Florida.
Due to the remoteness, search teams may need longer to complete their work compared to past hurricanes in more urban areas, said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Department of Emergency Management.
“You can have two houses on an 8 kilometer road, so it’s going to take a while,” Guthries said.
On Cedar Key Island, downed trees and debris blocked roads and propane tanks exploded.
RJ Wright stayed in Cedar Key so he could check on elderly neighbors. He hunkered down with friends at a motel and, once everything was safe, he got out in chest deep water. It could have been much worse for the island, which juts out into the Gulf, since it was not hit directly, he said.
“It was pretty violent for a while, but it was nothing compared to some other storms,” Wright said.
The system remained a hurricane as it moved through Georgia with peak winds of 90 mph (150 mph), after inundating Florida mostly east of Tallahassee. Forecasters said it would punish the Carolinas overnight like a tropical storm.
Some models had predicted that Idalia could turn south again toward land after that, but the National Hurricane Center predicted it would sink deeper into the Atlantic this weekend.
In the town of Perry, the wind blew store windows, ripped siding from buildings and toppled the awning of a gas station. Interstate 275 in Tampa was partially flooded and overturned power lines closed northbound Interstate 75 just south of Valdosta, Georgia.
About 200 miles south of where Idalia landed, the roads around the upscale shops and restaurants of St. Armands Circle in the Sarasota area were under water.
Amazed by flooding that turned Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard into a river, Bill Hall watched a paddleboarder roll along the main thoroughfare.
“It’s really amazing,” Hall said. “I haven’t seen anything like it in years.”
In Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, power went out long before the center of the storm landed, but the city avoided a direct hit. A giant oak tree next to the Governor’s Mansion has split in two, covering the yard with debris.
“If they chop down the whole tree, my kids will have more room to hit baseballs,” DeSantis said.
The storm surge could reach 4.9 meters in some places. Some counties have implemented curfews to keep residents off the roads.
Diane Flowers was sound asleep at 1 a.m. Wednesday at her home in Wakulla County, Florida, but her husband was watching the weather on TV when he received a text from their son after the storm moved into Category 4. He is a firefighter/EMT in Franklin County, which is also along the Gulf Coast.
“He said, ‘You have to go,'” Flowers said. “And he’s not one to overreact, so when he told us to leave, we just packed our things, got in our car and drove off.”
They quickly packed some clothes, medicine, food for their two border collies, a computer, important documents and a bag of Cheetos. Motels were packed all the way to Alabama, where they eventually found a room in Dothan.
The Tallahassee National Weather Service called Idalia an “unprecedented event” since no major hurricane on record has crossed the bay adjacent to Big Bend. The state, still grappling with the lingering damage from last year’s Hurricane Ian, feared disastrous consequences.
Idalia became a Category 2 system on Tuesday, then a Category 3 storm on Wednesday before peaking into a Category 4 hurricane. It then weakened slightly.
More than 30,000 Florida utility workers rallied to make repairs as quickly as possible in the aftermath of the hurricane. Area airports, including Tampa International Airport, planned to resume commercial operations Wednesday afternoon or Thursday.
In Valdosta, Georgia, high winds from Idalia uprooted trees and sent rain flying sideways, toppling a large tree onto a house and crippling the awning. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp told reporters there were no confirmed reports of injuries.
As he finished mooring about 20 sailboats and motor yachts moored on Wilmington Island, east of Savannah, Georgia, Brandon Long said his biggest concern was that the wave of storm was to coincide with a higher than normal tide.
“If these docks are floating on their pylons or falling apart from the strong current and choppy waters, then that’s what destroys a marina,” said Long, owner of the Bull River Marina.
Authorities in Bermuda have warned that Idalia could hit the island early next week as a tropical storm. On Wednesday, Bermuda was hit by the outer bands of Hurricane Franklin, a Category 2 storm that was about to pass near the island in the North Atlantic Ocean.
President Joe Biden called DeSantis on Wednesday to let him know that federal support would be available to deal with any destruction of Idalia. The Republican governor and Republican presidential candidate has indicated that the state’s needs are currently being met, said Deanne Criswell, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.