Hurricane Ian slammed into southwest Florida Wednesday afternoon as a very strong Category 4 storm and has caused catastrophic flooding and widespread damage, knocking out electricity for more than 2.5 million utility customers, trapping people in their homes, ripping the roof off a hospital ICU, and generally wreaking destruction across the area. The heavy rainfall (more than 14 inches had already fallen on Lehigh Acres by 10:00 pm Wednesday), on top of extreme storm surge at least 12 feet above normal, caused widespread flooding.
“I’ve lost my house. I have water and gas flowing through my bottom floor. My neighbors have very little breathing room in their one-story house,” Thomas Podgorny of Fort Meyers told CNN from the second floor of his home, from which he saw several vehicles floating away. Nick Underwood, a NOAA aerospace engineer who has flown 76 times through 22 storms and, “Out of all of those,” he told CNN, his flight through Hurricane Ian Wednesday morning “was absolutely the worst.”
Nearby communities and environmental advocates are also alarmed over the potential inundation and release of billions of tons of pollution from phosphate fertilizer industry operations in the form 24 phosphogypsum “stacks” around the state. (Ian: AP, Axios, E&E News, Reuters, The Hill, Yale Climate Connections, NBC, NBC; ICU: AP; Homes: CNN; Storm surge: Axios, NBC, Grist; Flight: CNN; Phosphate pollution: AP)