Officials in the worst affected Lee County in Florida are Face growing questions On why the first mandatory evacuations were not ordered until a day before Hurricane Ian made landfall — despite the contingency plan indicating that the evacuations were supposed to happen earlier.
The evacuation orders issued by Lee County also came a day or more after those of neighboring counties in the north.
interrupt Comprehensive emergency management plan It states that there is a 10% chance of 6 feet or more of water “indicating a need” for hurricane evacuations in the most vulnerable areas.
The National Hurricane Center’s guidance, reviewed by CNN, first reports a “4-7 feet high” for that area as early as 11 p.m. ET on Sunday — three days before making landfall. This level of elevation was projected in an area from Englewood to Bonita Beach – which includes the entire Lee County coast.
By 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, around the time the first evacuation message came out, NHC raised its forecast for a storm surge to 5-10 feet. By 11 a.m. ET, the forecast was expanded to 8-12 feet of storm surge for all of Lee County.
The county’s first announcement of mandatory evacuations wasn’t until Tuesday morning. At a news conference around 7 a.m. EDT Tuesday, county officials announced mandatory evictions for the most vulnerable “Area A” and parts of the county’s “Area B.”
The county also opened its first shelters at 9 a.m. ET on Tuesday. Later that day, the county expanded the order to include all of Area B.
Other counties in Ian’s path, such as Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte, spent Monday issuing evacuation orders. Even before Hillsborough County issued the official order, the mayor of Tampa was urging the public to evacuate.
“If you can leave, just leave now, and we’ll take care of your personal belongings,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told Kate Bolduan on CNN at about 11 a.m. ET on Monday.
Pressed by CNN’s Dana Bach, Republican Senator Rick Scott declined to blame Lee County, saying “we’ll look and find out” if proper evacuation procedures were followed. “I think once we get through this, we do an assessment. What I’ve always tried to do as a conservative is to say, OK, so what did we learn in each of those.”
Governor Ron DeSantis and Lee County officials defended the county’s decision-making, noting a shifting forecast trajectory that has shifted the worst effects in the south closer to land.
At a news conference Monday, the day before the evacuation order was issued, Lee County Administrator Roger DeGarlais dismissed the idea that planning for Hurricane Ian was more difficult than other storms. He said that the fact that his county was within the expected path of the storm’s center days ago indicates that the storm will eventually move elsewhere.
“Two days before Fort Myers, Lee County was at the heart of a cone…uncertainty, and that’s really the best place to be, three or four days because a storm would never act that way.” Desjarlais said. “So, these variables are always there, and we’re training and planning for all changes to the storm properties.”
Dejarlais said Monday that although the county has not yet issued an eviction order, residents should feel free to leave.
“If you’re feeling a little nervous about this storm and its effects, it’s okay to go now if you want,” Degarlais said. “So if you feel like it and think it’s a good idea, now is the time to get on the road and head to a safer part of the state.”
The delays were first reported by the New York Times, and Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruan defended the Times account in an interview with Boris Sanchez on The New Sunday on CNN, calling the report “inaccurate” and defending the timeline.
“Unfortunately, people are satisfied,” Rowan said when talking about why people were not evacuated sooner. “As far as I’m concerned that the shelters were open, they had the ability, they’ve had them all Tuesday, and they’ve had a good part of Wednesday where the storm is coming down – they had the ability to do that.”
Kevin Anderson, the mayor of Fort Myers, told CBS “Face the Nation” Sunday morning that “hurricane season warnings begin in June. And so, there is a degree of personal responsibility here. I think the county acted appropriately. The thing is that the proportion of Certain people will not heed the warnings regardless.”
CNN’s Keith Allen and Andy Rose contributed to this report