(NewsNation) — Florida residents living in vulnerable coastal areas were ordered to pack up and leave as Hurricane Idalia gained strength in the Gulf of Mexico, and authorities warned of a “catastrophic storm surge and destructive winds” when the storm moves ashore later Wednesday morning.
More than 20 Florida counties have issued evacuation orders as Hurricane Idalia approaches.
On the island of Cedar Key, Commissioner Sue Colson joined other city officials in packing up documents and electronics at City Hall. She had a message for the almost 900 residents who were under mandatory orders to evacuate the island near the coast of the Big Bend region. More than a dozen state troopers went door to door warning residents that storm surge could rise as high as 15 feet.
“One word — leave,” Colson said. “It’s not something to discuss.”
However, not everyone was heeding the warning. Michael Pressley Bobbitt, the ‘Clambassador’ of Cedar Key, is one of 100 people who stayed behind on Cedar Key.
He says he’s concerned about the handful of elderly residents who plan to ride out the storm and could likely get stuck once the storm passes.
“The fact that we’re an island that’s gonna get cut off was one of the reasons why I felt like I needed to stay,” Bobbitt said. “There were some elderly and infirm neighbors of mine that I just could not talk into leaving. And I was concerned about folks just not having anyone to help.”
He added that as soon as the surge and the winds stop, he’ll be in his boats helping residents.
“We’re gonna do whatever we can to help,” Bobbitt said.
Bobbitt noted that although he’s lived in Cedar Key for three years and has traveled there every weekend for 20 years, he’s never seen the water “rise out of the Gulf in such an angry way.”
“There’s an apocalyptic scene out there. We’re used to storm surge here; we’re used to the far away in floods. But we’re not used to it coming from all sides and just swallowing up everything,” he said. “If we get even half of the storm surge that’s predicted, Cedar Key as we know it … it’ll be unrecognizable. If we get all of it, I think we’re in real, real trouble.”
Idalia was projected to come ashore as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of at least 130 mph in the lightly populated Big Bend region, where the Florida Panhandle curves into the peninsula.
The result could be a big blow to a state still dealing with lingering damage from last year’s Hurricane Ian. It had grown into a Category 2 system on Tuesday afternoon and became a Category 3 just hours earlier Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.