Hurricane Idalia, a powerful Category 3 storm, made landfall near Tampa, Florida, early Wednesday morning, bringing destructive winds, heavy rain and life-threatening storm surge to the state’s Gulf Coast.
The hurricane, which intensified rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico, had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph when it hit the shore around 2 a.m. local time, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC)1. It was the first major hurricane to strike Florida since Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Idalia’s strong winds ripped roofs off buildings, snapped trees and power lines, and tossed cars and debris across the streets. More than 1.5 million customers were without electricity in Florida as of Wednesday morning, according to poweroutage.us2.
The storm also pushed a massive wall of water onto the coast, causing widespread flooding and erosion. The NHC reported storm surge heights of up to 11 feet in some areas, such as Cedar Key and Crystal River1. Coastal communities were inundated with saltwater, mud and debris, and some residents had to be rescued from their homes by boat or helicopter.
Idalia also dumped heavy rain across the state, triggering flash floods and river flooding. The NHC said some areas could see up to 15 inches of rain from the storm1. The rain also posed a threat to the state’s water supply, as some wastewater treatment plants were overwhelmed and released untreated sewage into the environment.
As Idalia moved inland, it weakened to a tropical storm, but still posed a danger to millions of people in its path. The storm was expected to bring strong winds and heavy rain to parts of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee on Wednesday and Thursday1. The NHC warned of possible tornadoes and landslides in some areas.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 67 counties ahead of Idalia’s arrival and urged residents to heed evacuation orders and prepare for the worst3. He said the state was working with federal and local partners to provide assistance and resources to the affected areas.
“The impacts from Idalia will be severe across a large portion of our state,” DeSantis said at a news conference on Tuesday. “This is a very dangerous storm that has the potential to cause significant loss of life and property.”
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Florida on Monday and said the federal government was ready to help with the response and recovery efforts4. He also expressed his concern for the people in Idalia’s path and urged them to stay safe.
“Our thoughts are with everyone who is in harm’s way,” Biden said in a statement. “We will do everything we can to support your state and your communities as you prepare for, respond to, and recover from this storm.”