Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Lee County officials acted appropriately when they issued their first mandatory evacuations Tuesday, less than 24 hours before Hurricane Ian made landfall in the state and a day after several neighboring counties issued their orders.
“They followed the data, and you remember people first looked 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 said this was a direct hit on Tampa Bay, the worst case scenario for the state.”
“When that track started to shift south, and the computer models the next morning, they (Lee County leaders) called for evacuations, they opened their shelters, and they responded very quickly to the data. But at the end of the day, Fort Myers and Naples, Sunday, I think, 11:00 a.m., 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 is 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.
DeSantis’ comments Saturday come amid criticism of 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 were “springing into action” as forecasts moved the storm south.
While the cone did not include Fort Myers or Naples three days before the storm made landfall, Ian made landfall Wednesday at Cayo Costa in Lee County, a point that was inside the cone 72 hours before the storm’s landfall and in all the other dozens of cones issued for the storm.
Lee County issued a mandatory evacuation for Zones A and B — which includes the hard-hit coastal areas — on Tuesday at 5:20 p.m. ET, according to a tweet by the county board.
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 that would take effect Tuesday at 7 a.m. ET for Zone B and C.
In a similar move, Manatee County announced an evacuation Tuesday at 8 ET in a Facebook post Monday afternoon.
Hillsborough County, meanwhile, announced a mandatory evacuation for the county’s Zone A on Monday. 2 p.m. ET via the county’s Facebook page.
Sarasota and Charlotte counties announced similar evacuation notices for parts of their counties Monday via a press conference and a news release, respectively.
Speaking to CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday, Fort Myers City Councilman Liston Bochette was asked about the evacuation time he and other residents were given. Fort Myers is located in Lee County.
“Obviously it happens one time out of ten when they warn you,” Bochette told Acosta. “Well, that’s the one time. And people didn’t evacuate like they were supposed to. And I think we’ve been lulled into … this is a little paradise corner of the world, and we’ve been lulled into a passive mindset of, that it will not affect us.”