TAMPA, Fla. (WPRI) — Hurricane Ian, now a Tropical Storm, continues whipping through Florida as of Thursday morning.
The Tampa Bay area was originally forecast to be the hardest hit and that’s where former 12 News Investigative Reporter Walt Buteau works now.
Even though the storm tracked south, he says it was still pretty fierce, describing the current winds in Lakeland, halfway between Tampa and Orlando, as having 30 mph consistent winds with 50 mph gusts.
“It tracked a little away from us late last night so it’s more of a wind event now and there has been a lot of rain,” he explained.
Walt says they are still under a Flash Flood Warning and thousands have evacuated from his area.
“[The winds were] less than we expected but still bad enough it’s knocked over a lot of trees, 60,000 people without power, and then the big concern here is flash flooding because we have some areas that flood normally and the ground is saturated so now the thought is once the sun comes out we’re gonna see that water rise abnormally,” he explained.
In counties south of him like Fort Meyers, Venice, and Sarasota, it’s as bad as it gets.
He says crews from his station, WFLA, reported seeing refrigerators floating down the streets, homes completely flooded and devastating damage in those areas.
When asked about how it compares to covering nor’easters in Southern New England, he says it’s not as cold.
“Up there you worry about snow but here, because of the way the wind blows, protecting the gear is so important, so you have to find places where the camera is going to be safe and the reporter can give viewers an idea of what it looks like,” he explained. “With nor’easters, you just don’t get 70-80 mph winds that often up there and here that was a possibility.”
Ian is one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States and one of the five worst storms in Florida’s history.