Hurricane Ian barrels toward Florida's Gulf Coast, canceling Biden rally and bringing Ron DeSantis his biggest storm test as governor

Republican Gov Ron DeSantis of Florida issued an emergency declaration for the state as Hurricane Ian prepares to make landfall.
Republican Gov Ron DeSantis of Florida issued an emergency declaration for the state as Hurricane Ian prepares to make landfall.Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • Hurricane Ian is set to hit Florida's Gulf Coast this week.

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued a state of emergency in Florida as the response kicks into high gear.

  • Biden postponed a campaign event in the state.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is preparing to face what's projected to be his first major hurricane as governor just six weeks before Election Day.

Hurricane Ian could become a Category 4 storm as early as Tuesday and into Wednesday. The designation means the hurricane is predicted to reach between 130 and 156 mph, and DeSantis warned in a press conference in Tallahassee on Monday morning that Ian would be 500 miles wide.

"We know we are going to have some major impacts throughout the state of Florida," said DeSantis, a Republican.

He warned about "significant flooding" in Tampa, as well as power outages, fuel interruptions, and traffic backups in areas that are being evacuated. Certain parts of Tampa have been evacuated as well as parts of Manatee County, which surrounds Bradenton.

DeSantis declared a state of emergency for all of Florida on Saturday and activated 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard.

The storm already delayed several campaign-related events.

President Joe Biden had been scheduled to appear at a Democratic National Committee event in Orlando on Tuesday with Democrat Charlie Crist, a former congressman and gubernatorial candidate who's running to unseat DeSantis in November. The DNC postponed the event given the impending storm.

Crist also canceled a rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with the multicultural organization Faith in Florida on Monday evening when he'd been scheduled to appear alongside Democratic Rep. Val Demings, who is running for the US Senate. Demings had not planned on campaigning with Biden in Orlando even though it's in her district, NBC News reported.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who is Demings' GOP opponent in the Senate race, postponed a campaign event that was set to occur this week in rural Homestead, Florida, because of the impending hurricane.

"Please take this storm seriously," Rubio tweeted Monday morning. His office said in a statement to Insider that his staff was prepared to assist with emergency measures.

DNC guidance shows Biden had been set to discuss Medicare and Social Security at Tuesday's event. But the event could also have given the president a launching pad to criticize DeSantis in his own backyard for sending planes carrying Venezuelan migrants to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Biden declared a federal state of emergency on Saturday, allowing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to help with the response.

DeSantis, who frequently criticizes the Biden administration, took a bipartisan tone in a press conference on Sunday during which he thanked the Biden administration for its assistance.

"They stand by ready to help, so we appreciate that quick action," he said.

A sign directs hurricane evacuees to safety.
A sign directs hurricane evacuees to safety.Darwin Brandis/Getty Images

Florida prepares for the storm

The storm is set to intensify before hitting Cuba's coast on Monday into Tuesday, and is set to head up Florida's Gulf Coast. It's still possible the storm will weaken.

Parts of Florida that are not in the storm's direct path, such as Miami, could still face heavy winds and rain.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management this weekend began assisting the state with trucks of food, water, generators, and water pumps. DeSantis' emergency declaration also allows Floridians to bypass typical time limits on prescriptions and stock up early.

DeSantis cautioned that "there is no need to panic buy fuel" and said that some tolls had been suspended so that people who needed to evacuate their homes could navigate the roads more easily.

In a press conference Monday afternoon in Largo, Florida, state Attorney General Ashley Moody reminded businesses that Florida law prohibits them from price gouging supplies people will need. She encouraged viewers to download an iPhone app called "No Scam" that will help Floridians report price increases.

"You cannot take advantage of an emergency situation and drastically increase prices," Moody said.

In 2019, DeSantis oversaw the response to Hurricane Dorian as it threatened Florida, but the storm ended up being far less devastating than projected.

Five counties — including in Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located, and Pinellas, which houses clearwater and St. Petersburg where Crist is from — have implemented school closures.

"Our entire county is going to feel some type of impact," Cathie Perkins, director of Pinellas County Emergency Management, said at the Largo press conference. The county was expecting between 10 to 15 feet surges, she said, and "widespread flooding," as well as a risk of tornadoes.

The county is doing a mandatory evacuation order for certain sections of the county after 6 p.m., and others on Tuesday morning. Officials said people didn't necessarily need to travel to another state, given that shelters were being made available in the county, but needed to get out of harm's way. Mobile homes are part of the evacuation order.

"This kind of storm is going to cause serious damages and widespread power outages," Perkins said.

GOP Sen. Rick Scott urged Floridians to prepare for the storm through stocking up on food and water, and setting up an evacuation plan in case local officials advise people to vacate their area. The state determines evacuation zones based on flooding risk.

Scott began tweeting about the storm last week and reported on Sunday that he spoke with director of National Weather Service Ken Graham, after which he warned on Twitter that Ian would be a "big & dangerous storm."

"Every Floridian needs to stay alert and take this storm seriously," Scott said in a statement released through his office. "If a major hurricane hits Florida, it could be absolutely devastating."

This story has been updated with additional comments from state and local officials, and the news that the Fort Lauderdale Democratic rally has now been postponed. 

Read the original article on Business Insider