ORLANDO, Fla. - Military vehicles and airboats helped rescue people Thursday morning as Hurricane Ian – now a tropical storm – flooded roadways, stranded vehicles, and knocked out power to thousands in Central Florida.
Much of Central Florida remain under flash flood warnings, which means imminent flooding. Officials warned people to shelter in place and avoid driving out on the roads. People in some communities were also asked to conserve water in some cities.
"Wherever they are, they need to stay put," said Orange County Emergency Manager Chief Lauraleigh Avery. "We could have a really rapid amount of rain, a lot of rain coming really fast. We were already expecting 12 to 20 inches of rain. Now we could go up to 30 in some areas."
Gov. Ron DeSantis described the storm and current aftermath as a "500-year flood event," referring to the rising levels of water during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
"This is still a hazardous situation," he said.
He said the Sanibel Causeway, which connects Sanibel and Punta Rassa, near Ft. Myers, will likely have to be rebuilt.
Road closures in Central Florida
- All roads in and out of Orlando International Airport are closed
- Florida Turnpike closed in both directions – between mile markers 254 to 267 in Orange County – due to significant flooding
- Orange County Sheriff's Office said the following roads are flooded and advise people to stay off these roads if they don't need to evacuate due to rising floodwaters: Pershing Ave/Glen Village Ct, Palm Creek Ave/Curry Ford Rd., E Colonial/Taylor Creek Rd., Conway/Judge to Hoffner
- Volusia County bridges are closed
Evacuations or notices
- Flagler County urging Woodlands neighborhood, part of evacuation zone C, to evacuate immediately due to "expectations of significant flooding of your neighborhood streets, with the potential to impact your home," said Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord.
- Bunnell encouraging residents to conserve energy
- Walt Disney World's theme parks, water parks, and Disney Springs will remain closed on Thursday
- Universal Resort Orlando remains closed Thursday.
- Orlando International Airport also remains closed Thursday.
Rescues in Kissimmee
Airboats and military vehicles were seen rescuing people in Osceola County, where roadways in Kissimmee were flooded with water. Nine people and a dog were seen being carried in a large military vehicle to dry land and safety.
‘Unprecedented, historic flooding’
The Seminole County Sheriff's Office said it was dealing with "unprecedented, historic flooding" in Seminole County – and encouraged people to stay off the roadways. They also will be triaging emergency calls.
Ian – which weakened to a tropical storm on Thursday morning – made landfall as a powerful Category 4 hurricane on the southwestern coast of Florida on Wednesday and has been pounding the state with torrential downpours and high wind gusts as it makes its way across land.
Most Central Florida counties can expect to feel Ian's impacts through Friday.