PUNTA GORDA, United States- Powerful Hurricane Ian weakened Wednesday night after sweeping the state of Florida with violent winds and torrential rains, causing “catastrophic” flooding and power outages in the region.
The US Coast Guard was searching for 20 missing migrants in a boat wreck in the Florida Keys, south of the hurricane’s path. Three castaways were rescued from the water and four swam to shore.
With sustained winds of up to 185 km per hour, Ian made landfall along Cayo Costa, in the southwest of the state at 3:05 p.m. local time (19:05 GMT), causing “catastrophic flooding” in its path, reported the National Hurricane Center. (NHC) from the United States.
The storm reached wind gusts of up to 240 km per hour when it made landfall, although later the intensity was reduced to about 120 km per hour, the NHC indicated around 2:00 local time (1:00 am, Mexico City time). , which downgraded it to category 1.
Ian, which has already devastated western Cuba in recent days, is expected to move into Florida, out into the Atlantic Ocean and end up affecting the states of Georgia and South Carolina, according to forecasts by the Center.
Ian left nearly two million homes without electricity at nightfall on Wednesday in Florida, especially in areas around the hurricane’s path, according to the specialized site PowerOutage, which records power outages in the United States.
Many of the counties near the place where Ian made landfall were without power almost completely, according to the same source.
The city of Punta Gorda was also plunged into darkness. During the night, only a few buildings with electric generators were still lit and the only noises around were the roar of the wind and the persistent rain.
Hours before, the city had a brief respite when it was in the eye of the hurricane. But the storms and the rain came back with more force, ripping off sign boards and carrying away large pieces of roofs and tree branches.
In Naples, in southwestern Florida, MSNBC channel footage showed completely flooded streets and cars floating in the current, while in Fort Myers, the flooding was so great that some neighborhoods resembled lakes.
In some areas, flooding can exceed three meters, state Governor Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday night.
About 2.5 million people were subject to mandatory evacuation orders from a dozen Florida coastal counties, where several dozen shelters were set up.
Fewer storms, but more intense
Governor DeSantis called Ian “one of the five most powerful hurricanes to ever hit Florida.”
“This is a storm that will be talked about for many years,” National Weather Service (NWS) director Ken Graham said at a news conference.
Deanne Criswell, head of FEMA, the federal agency charged with managing natural disasters, said Ian would remain a “very dangerous” storm for “days to come.”
Ian, which hit Cuba on Tuesday, left two dead and a complete power outage on the island.
By Wednesday, electricity had been restored in parts of Havana and 11 other provinces, but not in the three worst-affected provinces in the west of the island.
Experts point out that, as the surface of the oceans warms, the frequency of more intense hurricanes, with stronger winds and more precipitation, increases, but not the total number of hurricanes.
According to Gary Lackmann, a professor of atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State University, several studies have shown a “possible link” between climate change and a phenomenon known as “rapid intensification,” when a relatively weak tropical storm strengthens, as This is the case of Hurricane Ian.
“There remains a consensus that in the future there will be fewer storms, but that the most important ones will be more intense,” the scientist told AFP.