Central Florida flooded lakes prompt new evacuations, water use advisories after Hurricane Ian

Evacuations are ongoing in Central Florida due to rising lakes from Hurricane Ian. Meanwhile, in Southwest Florida, National Guardsmen and first responders are working to evacuate barrier island residents cut off by the hurricane storm surge.

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – More than a foot of rainfall from Hurricane Ian flooded lakes throughout Central Florida, sending water into Orlando and Kissimmee-area homes, and Ian's impacts continue days after the storm is gone. 

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida Wednesday as a deadly Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds and then churned up the Interstate 4 corridor into the greater Orlando area.

Central Florida's landscape is covered in large lakes over 1 acre, most scattered throughout Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties.

Days after Ian prompted hundreds of water rescues in Central Florida due to flooding, the South Florida Water Management District continues to reduce regional lake levels in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes system to divert water and provide relief to flooded communities.

FOX Weather multimedia journalist Katie Byrne spoke to Kissimmee and St. Cloud residents on Sunday who left their homes voluntarily due to rising waters.

According to the district, engineers have fixed damaged infrastructure and are installing pumps to move water away from homes, roads and businesses.

"What we are doing is we’re strategically moving water between those lakes and downstream towards Lake Okeechobee to provide relief for high lake levels over time," South Florida Water Management District Director Drew Bartlett said.

So far five high-volume pumps are operational and teams are preparing to deploy seven more for operation when needed. 


However, the community of St. Cloud in Osceola County was under new voluntary evacuation zones Sunday after an outfall of East Lake Toho was vandalized overnight and contributed to the rising water. 

"Although we expected water levels to rise as water flowed south from counties north of us, we have been told this morning that an outfall north of East Lake Toho was vandalized overnight and is contributing to water coming to our area faster than anticipated," St. Cloud city officials wrote on Facebook Sunday. 

According to Osceola County officials, residents under these evacuation zones will be alerted via the county's mass notification system, telling them to prepare their homes for rising water.

According to the latest models, flooding is expected to peak between Oct. 7 and Oct. 12. However, officials say the situation is rapidly evolving, which may change. Osceola County staff continue to work with the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on flood models. 

Water could rise another two feet over the next several days.

A pet-friendly evacuation shelter is open at Osceola Heritage Park, and sandbags are distributed at the St. Cloud Civic Center.

In Orlando, residents were under a water usage advisory after Ian damaged a sanitary sewer.  

"At 2 a.m., city Lift Stations 1, 2, and 3 were impacted after a 36-inch force main break causing an overflow of sewage in the surrounding lakes," the city wrote on Twitter. "Residents should avoid using lakes, contact with standing water or use of any watercrafts in the surrounding lakes and streets."

While not a boil water notice, people in the area are being asked to "severely limit water use" in their homes, including laundry, dishwashing and taking showers.

Orange and Osceola County school districts will remain closed on Monday with plans to welcome students back on Tuesday, October 4.

Evacuations ongoing from Southwest Florida barrier islands 

Meanwhile, flooding has primarily subsided in Southwest Florida, where the most extreme Ian impacts were felt, but many residents are cut off from their homes or are being told to leave unsafe areas.

The Lee County barrier island, Pine Island, was among the communities cut off from the mainland.

Pine Island residents were told to evacuate this weekend. According to the Lee County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Coast Guard is organizing waterborne evacuations on the island Sunday.

"Residents are asked to make their way to Pine Island Fire Department, 5700 Pine Island Rd NW, Bokeelia, where they will be taken by truck to Yucatan Waterfront on Pine Island Road via truck," according to the Sheriff's Office.

Matlacha and Pine Island Fire Control District crews went door-to-door Saturday, working on getting everyone ready to leave the island. 

From Yucatan Waterfront, the U.S. Coast Guard, first responders and volunteer vessels will take evacuees across Matlacha Pass to D & D Bait and Tackle, 3922 Pine Island Road NW, where LeeTran buses will take them to a shelter.

Rescue operations continue throughout the devastated Southwest Florida area led by more than 5,000 National Guardsmen. 

More than 42,000 utility workers across the state are working to restore power across the Sunshine State. According to FP&L officials, the power utility company expects to have about 90% of its customers restored this week.