Channel 9′s Dave Faherty is in Florida as residents prepare their homes and themselves for Hurricane Ian.
Since Monday, Faherty has been in Sarasota County, tracking the massive storm on the ground. Then on Wednesday, he was in Venice, Florida as the storm made landfall. Faherty said the wind and rain was picking up in intensity.
WSOC SPECIAL SECTION: Tracking the Tropics
Hurricane Ian’s most damaging winds began hitting Florida’s southwest coast Wednesday, lashing the state with heavy rain and pushing a devastating storm surge after strengthening to the threshold of the most dangerous Category 5 status.
Fueled by warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Ian grew to a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane overnight with top winds of 155 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm trudged on a track that would have it make landfall north of the heavily populated Fort Myers area, which forecasters said could be inundated by a storm surge of up to 18 feet.
Ian menced Florida after bringing destruction Tuesday to western Cuba, where two people were reported dead and the storm brought down the country’s electrical grid.
Ian’s center was about 25 miles west of Fort Myers at 2 pm Wednesday, as it churned toward toward the coast at 9 mph. The storm was expected to spend a day or more crawling across the Florida peninsula, dumping flooding rains of 12 to 18 inches across a broad area, including Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville.
“Right now we’re focusing on the west central Florida area as the main area for impact,” hurricane specialist Andy Latto told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Faherty said one location in Sarasota County had already filled up more than 15,000 sandbags ahead of the storm. Ian is not only expected to bring strong winds to this area, but lots of rainfall.
People were also spotted boarding up several businesses in the Venice area. Many said they are concerned the area could see rainfall lasting more than 24 hours and packed up to leave their homes.
“A little bitch. We did a whole renovation on our house here, so hoping it doesn’t blow away after all our hard work,” resident Sue Spiak said.
The Englewood Fire Department said it is getting ready for the storm by gassing up a huge truck that can make it through flooded areas. Firefighters said they won’t respond after sustained winds reach 40 mph because of the danger it puts first responders in.
“We’ve seen quite a few storms come through. This one is apparently going to be the worst on that we have seen,” Fox Furniture manager David Fiederer said.
Channel 9 learned 7,000 members of the National Guard have been activated for the storm. Resources were also seen moving south, including power crews.
>> We have team coverage on the ground and in Severe Weather Center 9 tracking every development of the storm. Watch Eyewitness News for the latest.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(WATCH BELOW: Hurricane Ian: What you need to know)