catastrophic! Hurricane Ian floods Southwest Florida; there are people trapped

Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the United States, slammed into Southwest Florida on Wednesday, flooding streets and buildings, knocking out power to more than 1 million people and threatening catastrophic damage far inland.

A coastal police station reported that it was receiving many calls from people trapped in houses. The center of the hurricane entered near Cayo Costa, a barrier island west of densely populated Fort Myers.

Mark Pritchett left his home in the city of Venice around the same time the hurricane made landfall, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the south. He commented that he had been “terrifying”.

“I literally couldn’t stand up in the wind,” Pritchett wrote in a text message. “The rain falls like needles. My street is a river. Fallen branches and trees. And the worst is yet to come.”

The Category 4 hurricane battered the coast with winds of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and pushed up a storm surge that had built up during its slow advance over the Gulf of Mexico. More than 1.1 million Florida homes and businesses were without power. Previously, the storm hit Cuba, where it left two dead and disabled the island’s power grid.

About 2.5 million people in Southwest Florida were ordered to evacuate before Ian arrived, but by law no one could be forced to leave their home.

Anchors for Fort Myers’ WINK television station had to leave their regular work desk and continue coverage from another location in their newsroom because water was entering their building near the Caloosahatchee River.

Although it is forecast to weaken as it moves inland at about 9 mph (14 km/h), Ian’s hurricane-force winds would likely be felt as far as central Florida.

Hours after landfall, its maximum sustained winds had dropped to 130 mph (210 km/h). Still, storm surges up to 6 feet (2 meters) high were expected to hit northeast Florida.