South Florida will likely be safe from the brunt of Hurricane Ian, but that doesn’t mean emergency personnel from the area will be taking it easy when the storm makes landfall on the state’s west coast later this week.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez announced at a Tuesday press conference the city is sending an 80-person “strike force” to Tampa to be in position for the storm’s imminent arrival.
Suarez said Miami personnel have been in contact with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s office and state entities, including urban search and rescue teams, to align emergency preparation and response efforts.
City staff are also monitoring “15 to 20 trouble areas” in Miami that could flood as Ian nears, he added.
The hurricane struck Cuba’s Pinar del Río province at around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. It cleared the island by roughly 2 p.m. while maintaining Category 3 strength on approach to Florida at 10 mph.
Suarez said he expects the storm to grow stronger, citing National Hurricane Center projections of a “100% chance of damaging tropical-force winds” by the time it reaches Florida.
“Unfortunately, it looks like nothing will stop it from intensifying into a Category 4 storm before hitting Florida at some point tomorrow,” Suarez said.
“Right now, Ian has sustained winds of 125 miles an hour, and we’re expecting 14 feet of storm surge along Cuba’s coast. Ian is expected to reach top winds of 140 miles an hour as early as today before making landfall again. This time, unfortunately, it will be in Florida.”
Federal, state and local work is underway to mitigate the storm’s impacts as much as possible and ensure recovery is expedient and effective.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed some 14,000 emergency response workers are being prepositioned at “strategic locations” across Florida, Georgia and Alabama. So are operations, supplies and materials, including a mobilization center, 3.5 million liters of water, 3.7 million meals, 6,380 cots and several communications and medical vehicles, the agency said.
While Miami is leading the effort, the strike force team itself includes search-and-rescue, K-9 search, swift water and HAZMAT specialists from 26 other municipalities across Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Duval counties, Miami Fire Rescue Captain Ignatius Carroll told the Miami Herald.
Storm Update https://t.co/MLmBFbkLif
— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) September 27, 2022
Miami-Dade County is also sending its own team, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Urban Search & Rescue Task Force-1, to Tampa as one of five such teams activated throughout the state. An additional three federal urban search-and-rescue teams are on standby, as are more than 27,000 power-restoration personnel, among others.
Miami activated its Emergency Operations Center at 9 a.m. Tuesday to more seamlessly coordinate the storm-related efforts of its building, public works, information technology, police and fire rescue departments.
The most urgent issue facing Miami now is flooding, said City Commissioner Ken Russell. Miami is now experiencing king tide, when water levels reach their yearly peak and lead to groundwater rising up to nine inches higher than usual, resulting in regular flooding.
That combined with rainfall and changes Ian brings could lead to some serious issues, Russell said, urging residents to download the ISeeChange app on their Apple and Android devices so they can report problems as they see them using GPS technology.
“We’re very fortunate that we’re not getting really hit with the rain right now, because we have several different types of drainage here in the city,” he said.
“We have 390 stormwater outfalls that flow out to (Biscayne Bay), and when the king tide is above that outfall, they don’t function as well, and … you might see water in the streets until the tide drops.”
“So, we have water coming from above, but we also have water coming from the bay,” he added. “We passed an ordinance not so long ago increasing the height of our seawalls, but there are many places in the city where the seawalls have not increased, (including) one in the Coconut Grove area where the bay was already starting to breach that seawall. And then at that point, the pumps have no function whatsoever, because they’re just pushing water into a bay that’s already at the level of the seawall.”