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Floridians in the hurricane's path don't need to go far to get to safety, mayors say

People board up a restaurant in preparation for Hurricane Ian on Monday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
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People board up a restaurant in preparation for Hurricane Ian on Monday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

St. Petersburg and Tampa are preparing for what could be their first direct hit by a major hurricane in over a century. Officials there are urging people to comply with evacuation orders immediately.

Hurricane Ian is on a track to strike Florida as a Category 4 as early as Wednesday. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Ken Welch, mayor of St. Petersburg, about his city being in the likely path of Ian.

As Ian approaches the greater Tampa Bay region, Welch said moving people out of evacuation zones is the No. 1 priority right now.

Welch told Martin that the influx of new residents in the past decade makes that job harder because they don't understand that hurricane evacuations are serious.

"That's a part of living in Florida," Welch said. "And folks who come to our state need to understand that when a storm like this comes and you're in an evac area you need to have a plan and you need to move when asked to."

Welch pointed out that evacuees don't have to move 100 miles. They could move five or 10 miles right in St. Petersburg and Pinellas county, and be safe from flooding.

Welch said that with so many new residents over the last decade, there are a lot of people who just may not understand the serious threat of a storm like Ian, which called "the storm we hoped wouldn't come."

Welch also delivered a video message on Tuesday, urging residents to evacuate if they are under a mandatory evacuation order.

"I cannot stress this enough," Welch said. "When we ask you to evacuate, you must. Our first responders will not be able to come to your aid once speeds reach a certain level. And at that point, you will be on your own."

Officials issued mandatory evacuation for Zone A residents, effective at 6 p.m. on Monday. Mandatory evacuations for Zone B and Zone C residents follow, beginning Tuesday morning at 7 a.m.

"This is not a drill," Welch said in the video. "The potential danger that Hurricane Ian represents cannot be overstated. The predicted storm surge and possible rain event is unlike anything that most of us have ever endured.

"This storm poses a very real threat to public safety, our economy, and our infrastructure. And we need the community to be responsible, engaged, and prepared."

WUSF staff writers Craig Kopp and Carl Lisciandrello contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 NPR

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.