TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday warned residents of the state’s Gulf Coast, particularly in the Big Bend region of North Florida, to brace for a potential Category 2 hurricane making landfall Wednesday and causing life-threatening flooding and power outages.
“As we know, these things can wobble, so Floridians along our Gulf Coast should be vigilant even if you’re currently outside the cone,” DeSantis said during a news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.
The storm, named Idalia, was upgraded to a tropical storm on Sunday.
DeSantis said that while landfall appears most likely in Taylor and Dixie counties based on storm models, tracking is known to change. Taylor and Dixie are rural areas southeast of Tallahassee.
“There were models that had up to Cat 3,” DeSantis said. “The agreement seems to be Cat 2. But, again, there’s a lot that can happen. This thing hasn’t even gotten to Cuba yet, and the water in the gulf is very, very warm.”
Idalia is expected to become a hurricane when it gets over the eastern gulf, and the National Hurricane Center said storm-surge and hurricane watches were expected to be issued Sunday for parts of Florida.
“The depression is forecast to become a hurricane over the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and there is an increasing risk of life-threatening storm surge, flooding from heavy rainfall, and hurricane-force winds along portions of the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle beginning as early as Tuesday,” the center said.
Computer models, commonly referred to as spaghetti models, were closely in agreement Sunday afternoon, putting the western edge of the potential track in the central Panhandle and the eastern edge near Tampa.
Staging areas were being set up in North Florida to help with power restoration and other recovery efforts following the storm.
DeSantis said the state has mobilized 1,100 members of the Florida National Guard, and truck weight limits have been lifted by the Florida Department of Transportation to help speed recovery.
The hurricane center said Sunday afternoon the center of Idalia was about 80 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph. The system was moving north at 2 mph, bringing heavy rain to parts of western Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula.
Idalia’s northern speed is expected to pick up Monday.
The center predicted that Idalia will bring 3 to 6 inches of rain to parts of Florida’s west coast and the Panhandle, with some isolated areas topping 10 inches, causing scattered flash flooding and urban flooding.
Cars and trucks were lining up at some Tallahassee gas stations Sunday afternoon to fill up in anticipation of the storm. But state officials warned motorists about a potential fuel-contamination problem at stations supplied by Citgo from the Levy County community of Chiefland south to Naples.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced “human error” at the Port of Tampa resulted in the “strong likelihood” of contamination of gas sold to a number of stations that are Citgo customers, including BJ’s and 7-Eleven stations and some unbranded stations. The department said the gas is likely contaminated with diesel fuel, which could cause engine damage or affect the operability of vehicles.
“Impacted stations have been asked to stop selling gas until the contaminated fuel is replaced and tanks are cleaned,” the department said in a news release. “Once the stations are cleared or have completed a corrective action plan, fuel will once again be safe for purchase.”
The department said a “more accurate list” of the affected stations was not available.
DeSantis and state Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said fuel supplies will not be interrupted.
“That is a concern,” DeSantis said. “Now, if the storm ends up more North Florida than Tampa, then maybe that’s not going to end up being as important for the storm.”
With the storm developing, DeSantis on Saturday issued a state of emergency for 33 counties, stretching from Lee County in Southwest Florida to Bay County in the Panhandle.
Also, Attorney General Ashley Moody activated a state hotline to report price gouging --- 1-866- 966-7226. During storm-related emergencies, state law bars excessive increases in prices of such things as food, gasoline, hotel rooms, ice, lumber and water.
Meanwhile, a 14-day disaster-preparedness tax “holiday” began Saturday. The holiday, which provides sales-tax exemptions on such things as hurricane supplies, was approved this spring by lawmakers and DeSantis.
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