Florida officials said uncertainty about where Hurricane Ian would hit the state led to evacuation orders with short time frames for residents of barrier islands near Fort Myers that were walloped by the storm.
Gov. Ron DeSantis noted that forecasters initially thought the storm was likely to make landfall well to the north of the southwest Florida islands that ultimately took a direct hit.
“There is a difference between a storm that’s going to hit north Florida that will have peripheral effects on your region, versus one that’s making a direct impact,” Mr. DeSantis said, speaking at an afternoon news conference in Lee County. “And so what I saw in southwest Florida is, as the data changed, they sprung into action.”
Kevin Guthrie, the state’s emergency management director, said that hard-hit Lee County, where rescues were continuing on Friday, would have needed 48 hours to successfully evacuate. But two days before landfall, he said, forecasters were not expecting a direct hit there. When that changed, he said, county officials ordered evacuations.
“They made the best decision they could based on the information they had at the time,” Mr. Guthrie said.
Once the call was made to evacuate, Florida officials said there was extensive outreach to residents in the most vulnerable areas. But they said there was only so much they could do.
“People were made aware, they were told about the dangers and some people just made the decision that they did not want to leave,” Mr. DeSantis said.