Tampa experienced powerful winds and up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain.
“Please, please, please be aware that we are not out of danger yet,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a video on Twitter. “Flooding is still going to occur.”
During the night, Ian went through a natural cycle when it lost its old eye and formed a new one. The timing was bad for the Florida coast, because the storm got stronger and larger — 120 mph (193 kph) to 155 mph (250 kph) — with landfall just a few hours away.
The size of the storm also grew, with tropical storm force winds extending 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the hurricane’s center.
“With the higher intensity you’re going to see more extensive wind damage,” University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said. “The larger wind field means that more people will experience those storm-force winds.”
The most damaging winds could hit a coastline where the population has jumped sevenfold since 1970.
Ash Dugney warily watched ocean water being sucked out below a Tampa Bay pier Wednesday morning. He said he didn’t trust Tampa’s storm drainage system to keep his corner tuxedo rental business safe from flooding that he said has happened even during mild storms.
“I don’t care about the wind and the rain and the stuff like that, I just care about the flooding,” Dugney said, adding that he moved essentials out of the shop and moved other items up to above waist-high level.
Flash floods were possible across all of Florida. Hazards include the polluted leftovers of Florida’s phosphate fertilizer mining industry, more than 1 billion tons of slightly radioactive waste contained in enormous ponds that could overflow in heavy rains.
Forecasters placed roughly 120 miles (193 kilometers) of central Florida’s east coast under a hurricane warning Wednesday, signaling that Ian may remain a hurricane longer than previously expected as it moves inland.
Isolated tornadoes spun off the storm well ahead of landfall. One tornado damaged small planes and a hangar at the North Perry Airport, west of Hollywood along the Atlantic coast.
More than 450,000 homes and businesses were without electricity, and Florida Power and Light warned those in Ian’s path to brace for days without power.
The federal government sent 300 ambulances with medical teams and was ready to truck in 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water once the storm passes.
“We’ll be there to help you clean up and rebuild, to help Florida get moving again,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. “And we’ll be there every step of the way. That’s my absolute commitment to the people of the state of Florida.”
Parts of Georgia and South Carolina also could see flooding rains and some coastal surge into Saturday. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp preemptively declared an emergency, ordering 500 National Guard troops onto standby.
Associated Press contributors include Christina Mesquita in Havana, Cuba; Cody Jackson and Adriana Gomez Licon in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Seth Borenstein and Aamer Madhani in Washington; Bobby Caina Calvan in New York; Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama.