Florida governor defends the timing of Lee County officials’ evacuation ahead of Hurricane Ian


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Lee County officials acted appropriately when they issued their first mandatory evacuations on Tuesday, less than 24 hours before Hurricane Ian made landfall on the state, and a day after several neighboring counties issued their orders.

“They were following the data, and you remember people were looking initially at the panhandle on Sunday,” the governor told reporters in Fort Myers on Saturday, referring to where the storm was expected to hit. “Then Monday came and people were thinking maybe north of Tampa Bay. When we went to bed Monday night, people were saying this is a direct hit on Tampa Bay, worst-case scenario for the state.”

“As that track started the shift south, and the computer models the next morning, they (Lee County leaders) called for the evacuation, they opened their shelters and they responded very quickly to the data. But at the end of the day, Fort Myers and Naples, on Sunday, I think at the 11 a.m. advisory, 72 hours out, they weren’t even in the cone. That’s just the reality, so they followed it very closely,” he added.

The cone of uncertainty is what forecasters use to represent what’s likely to be the center of the storm. Storm impacts can – and often do – extend outside the cone.

At least 66 deaths suspected to be related to Ian have been reported in Florida, with the majority in Lee County. The sheriff there reported 35 deaths. The state’s death toll also includes 12 in Charlotte County, eight in Collier County, five in Volusia County, three in Sarasota County, one in Polk County, one in Lake County, one in Manatee County, according to officials.

Lee County authorities evacuate people on an airboat in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Lee County, Florida, on October 1, 2022.

DeSantis’ Saturday comments come amid criticism over how Lee County officials handled the evacuation orders. His remarks echoed what he said at an earlier news conference in Lee County, where he defended his administration’s response and said communities “sprung into action” as predictions shifted the storm south.

While the cone did not include Fort Myers or Naples three days before the storm made landfall, Ian made landfall Wednesday in Cayo Costa in Lee County, a point which was inside the cone 72 hours before the storm’s landfall and in all of the other dozens of cones issued for the storm.

Lee County issued a mandatory evacuation for Zones A and B – which include the hard-hit coastal areas – on Tuesday at 5:20 p.m. ET, according to a tweet by the county government.

Pinellas County announced evacuations via its Facebook account Monday evening at 6 p.m. ET for Zone A, and in the same announcement added an evacuation would go into effect Tuesday 7 a.m. ET for Zones B and C.

In a similar move, Manatee County announced a Tuesday 8 a.m. ET evacuation in a Monday afternoon Facebook post.

Hillsborough County, meanwhile, announced a mandatory evacuation for the county’s Zone A Monday at 2 p.m. ET via the county’s Facebook page.

Sarasota and Charlotte counties announced similar evacuation notices for portions of their counties on Monday, via a news conference and news release, respectively.

An aerial picture taken on October 1, 2022 shows a broken section of the Pine Island Road and destroyed houses in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Lee County, Florida.

Speaking to CNN’s Jim Acosta Saturday, Fort Myers city council member Liston Bochette was asked about the evacuation time he and fellow residents were given. Fort Myers is in Lee County.

“Obviously, about one time in ten when they warn you, it happens,” Bochette told Acosta. “Well, this is that one time. And people did not evacuate as they should have. And I think we’re lulled into … this is a little paradise corner of the world and we got lulled into a passive mindset that it’s not going to hit us.”

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