Outside the window of Susan Flack’s darkened condominium in Naples, Florida, on Wednesday, trees bent in the wind and a portable toilet floated by on rising flood waters.
Flack, one of thousands who decided to flout official evacuation orders and ride out Hurricane Ian, was not worried about her safety. Hunkered down on the second floor of her building, where the power had been out all day and the lobby was filled with several feet of water, she took videos of the scene outside.
“Being hysterical is not going to help,” the retired attorney said in a phone interview.
Ian plowed into Florida’s Gulf Coast with catastrophic force on Wednesday, pummelling the state with howling winds, torrential rain and a treacherous surge of ocean surf that made it one of the most powerful storms on record to hit the United States.
Some 2.5 million coastal residents and others in danger zones around Tampa, Ft. Myers and nearby communities were ordered or encouraged to evacuate ahead of the massive storm. But many did not, with some simply vowing to ride it out and others unable to leave for financial or other reasons.
In Sarasota County, officials warned that emergency vehicles would not respond to calls for help until it was safe to be on the road. Those who failed to get out by Wednesday afternoon, officials said, needed to shelter in place.
“Most people heeded the warnings of doing the evacuations in those very sensitive locations, but not everyone may have done that,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.
Inside her St. Petersburg home on Wednesday, Vanessa Vazquez, 50, soothed the four cats she had stayed behind to care for. The power winked out as the storm roared overhead. But the software engineer didn’t regret her decision.
“I still don’t want to go,” she said.
In Venice, Doug Coe walked through rainfall on Wednesday morning to see how a friend’s home was weathering the storm. Coe admitted to never experiencing a storm of this magnitude, but he was unfazed by the prospects of it ravaging his neighbourhood.
“I’m staying vigilant, but trying not to worry,” he said.
Nearby, residents of an assisted living facility also decided to ride out the storm in a new building meant to withstand the most severe hurricanes.
Flack said she had travelled to her Naples condo from her home in Washington, D.C. to watch her 16-year-old grandson compete in a baseball tournament.
The hurricane doused the tournament plans. But she decided not to leave, in part because the storm wasn’t initially set to hit Naples and also because she hoped her son’s family would still come down for a visit after the hurricane passed.
By Wednesday, the road below looked like a river. Lawn furniture and a neighbour’s car floated by. Flack was certain her car had been flooded, too.
“I’m not frightened,” she said. “But I am annoyed with myself for not moving my car.”