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PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – Southwestern Florida was slammed by a historic Hurricane Ian Wednesday afternoon, making landfall with 150 mph winds and a record-setting storm surge.
The now tropical storm is forecast to make a third landfall in the Southeast later this week.
Ian came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane near Cayo Costa in Lee County just after 3 p.m. EDT, according to the National Hurricane Center, knocking out power to over 2 million customers across Florida as of early Thursday morning and triggering dozens of water rescues in the southwestern part of the state.
Two fatalities, likely linked to the storm, have been reported, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a Thursday morning news conference.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said a 72-year-old man died after going outside during the storm overnight. The sheriff said he went outside to drain his pool, and deputies later pulled him from a canal. Deputies tried to perform CPR but were unsuccessful.
Videos and images from south Naples and Marco Island in Collier County painted a dangerous picture of how serious the storm surge would become as Ian’s eye wall came ashore, forcing 2.5 million to flee for the storm that tied for the fourth-strongest hurricane on record to strike Florida.
Ian's winds whipping through Naples knocked down trees and storm surge reached an all-time record hours before landfall. Naples recorded a storm surge of 4.8 feet, breaking the previous record of 4.25 feet set during Hurricane Irma in 2017.
How high the water actually reaches will be determined later because the gauge stopped reporting before Hurricane Ian’s eye made landfall. However, the waters continued to rise and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Hurricane Ian produced a storm surge that reached at least 12 feet in some areas.
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About two hours after landfall, Fort Myers reached 5.8 feet storm surge breaking the previous record set by Hurricane Gabrielle in 2001 at 3.36 feet.
Wind gusts of more than 100 mph were reported ahead of landfall along the coastline with Cape Coral reaching a gust of 135 mph.
FOX Weather journalists from Naples to Tampa and east to Orlando witnessed Ian's storm surge and ferocious winds firsthand.
Tracking every 911 call
Field meteorologist Brett Adair was in Punta Gorda, Florida, where gusts over 120 mph were battering the Charlotte County coastal town. Tree debris and pieces of homes were caught in the powerful winds and flying through the air.
FOX Weather journalist Will Nunley described transformers exploding and streetlights crashing down around him in a suburb of Fort Myers.
First responders in Lee and Collier counties reported numerous requests for water rescues from residents stranded in their homes due to flooding, but in some cases, conditions were too severe to respond.
"We need the public to know that we are receiving and tracking 911 calls and engaging with every caller," said Ben Abes, Lee County Public Safety Director. "We are categorizing them and prioritizing them so first responders can act as soon as the hurricane passes. We are aware of a number of calls of people who are stranded due to high water. However, we are faced with conditions that make it impossible to respond right now."
Lee County enacted an evening curfew and already had some reports of looting.
"There's going to be a zero tolerance policy for looting and violence in this town," said Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais.
The Naples Fire-Rescue Department recorded a video of first responders rescuing a woman from the water as Hurricane Ian moved closer to the coast.
After Naples Fire Rescue Station No. 1 became flooded, a fire truck started smoking, and firefighters worked to get it out of the garage to avoid a fire.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office temporary outreach center trailer in Fort Myers Beach was carried away by storm surge, video shared by the sheriff’s office showed.
Boats knocked around like toys
Also in Naples, flood waters moved into some of their healthcare facilities, including NCH North Naples Hospital and Solaris Healthcare. The Naples Municipal Airport EMS Station was evacuated due to rising waters, according to the National Weather Service.
FOX Weather correspondent Robert Ray was near Fort Myers Beach and moved to higher ground well ahead of landfall to avoid the storm surge. Closer to downtown Fort Myers the winds continued to batter trees and move around boats like toys.
Video from a high rise in Fort Myers showed a boat being ripped from its ties and set loose in the storm surge.
FOX Weather correspondents Nicole Valdes and Max Gorden saw reverse storm surge in action in Tampa and St. Petersburg hours before Ian made landfall.
On the north end of the storm, hurricane-force offshore winds pushed the water out of Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor near Punta Gorda, leaving muddy mires in their wake.
Even a day before Ian arrived, the outer bands of the hurricane prompted dozens of Tornado Warnings across South Florida.
Two people were hospitalized, and dozens were evacuated after a possible tornado damaged an apartment complex in Delray Beach, Florida Tuesday.
As the storm continued its trek across Florida Wednesday night, emergency responders were anxiously awaiting dawn to get a better grasp of the widespread damage.
"This is going to be a very difficult, trying time for the next several months," said Desjarlais. "This response and recovery effort is going to be complex. It's going to be costly. And it's going to be, require very concentrated efforts on the parts of the federal, state and local government agencies and the private sector as well."