Hurricane Ian nears Florida landfall with 155 mph winds

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Washington, Sept. 28 (BNA): Hurricane Ian rapidly intensified as it neared landfall along Florida’s southwest coast Wednesday morning, gaining top winds of 155 mph (250 kph), just shy of the most dangerous Category 5 status. Damaging winds and rain lashed the state, and forecasters said the heavily populated Fort Myers area could be inundated by a storm surge of up to 18 feet (5.5 meters).


Air Force hurricane hunters confirmed Ian gained strength over war, Gulf of Mexico water after battering Cuba, bringing down the country’s electricity grid and leaving the entire island without power.


Ian was centered about 60 miles (95 kilometers) west-southwest of Naples at 10 a.m., swirling toward the coast at 10 mph (17 kph), reports AP.


The massive storm appeared on track to slam ashore somewhere north of Fort Myers and some 125 miles (201 kilometers) south of Tampa, sparing the bay area from a rare direct hit from a hurricane.


The area is popular with retirees and tourists drawn to pristine white sandy beaches and long barrier islands, which forecasters said could be completely inundated.


Catastrophic storm surges could push as much as 12 to 18 feet (3.7 to 5.5 meters) of water over a nearly 100-mile (160-kilometer) stretch of coastline, from Bonita Beach north through Fort Myers and Charlotte Harbor to Englewood, the hurricane center warned. Rainfall near the area of landfall could top 18 inches (46 centimeters).


More than 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, but by law no one could be forced to flee.


The governor said the state has 30,000 linemen, urban search and rescue teams and 7,000 National Guard troops from Florida and elsewhere ready to help once the weather clears.