7,000 National Guard members ready to respond to storm emergencies in Florida

Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 10:05 AM EDT
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7,000 National Guard service members are mobilized and ready to respond to any storm-related emergencies from Hurricane Ian in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday.

Speaking at the state's Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, DeSantis said 5,000 guardsmen are from Florida, and an additional 2,000 from Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina are mobilized.

Five Urban Search and Rescue Teams are activated, and the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are prepared to assist.

"It will bring heavy rain, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surge, along with isolated tornado activity," DeSantis said.

All 67 counties in Florida are currently under a state of emergency because of the storm. A tropical storm watch has been issued for Lake Okeechobee.

According to the latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Ian is expected to strengthen into a major Category 3 hurricane on Tuesday and a Category 4 on Wednesday.

Ian is expected to make landfall somewhere between Tampa and Florida's Big Bend on Thursday or Friday.

"If you have that off the west coast of Florida, that's gonna cause a huge amount of storm surge," DeSantis said. "You're gonna have flood events. You're gonna have a lot of different impacts from that. So we want everybody to be safe."

The governor said the Florida Department of Transportation has suspended tolls in the Tampa Bay area, as well as in parts of Hillsborough, Polk, Okaloosa, and Santa Rosa counties, along with Alligator Alley in Collier County and into Broward County.

DeSantis said "ample fuel and resources" are coming into Florida, and stores like Publix and Walmart are constantly resupplying their stock. The governor urged residents not to "panic buy."

Gas stations are being resupplied with fuel "in good order," and should any shortages come up, Florida has contracts to bring additional fuel in.

"If the storm hits, you have a need for fuel, normal supply isn't getting there, we can tap some of these contracts that we have here," DeSantis said. "There will likely be some interruption of fuel at some point. And the goal is to minimize that and keep that as small as possible."

Kevin Guthrie, the director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, said the state has two million meals and one million gallons of water ready. An additional four million gallons of water are being held by FEMA north of the Florida/Georgia line.

In addition, Guthrie said fuel is flowing into the state and big box stores are bringing in extra supplies.

"The general staple things we need to help us recover quickly are here and we’re getting them into the state," Guthrie said.

WFLX First Alert Weather chief meteorologist Steve Weagle said the outer bands of the storm will impact Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Weagle said the probability of having tropical storm force winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour has gone up from 20% to 40%.

A tornado threat is possible, as well as three to five inches of rain by mid-week.

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