PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — People who live in the red zone evacuation area of Charlotte County should consider leaving before Hurricane Ian hits. The announcement came Monday afternoon from officials as people continued their storm preparations.
Patrick Fuller, Charlotte County's Emergency Management Director, says the driving force behind the decision was the storm surge.
"Storm surge is the number one threat for our residents of southwest Florida. In fact, water is the number one killer when it comes to tropical events," Fuller said. "Storm surge is why we evacuate most events. The storm surge forecast we received indicates that a red zone is warranted."
The evacuation also applies to people who live in manufactured or mobile homes outside the red zone. The red zone mainly consists of coastal communities and its estimated 40,000 people should consider leaving.
A shelter is planning on opening a shelter on Tuesday, but it's not clear when or where at the moment. If you plan on leaving, officials say you should still stay close. The reason is roads, such as I-4, could be packed with drivers evacuating from other counties. Evacuating far away could bottleneck the road even more.
"A little worried about storm surge," said Justin Hall, who filled up sandbags on Monday afternoon. "It's more about preparing and making sure you have the essentials."
Charlotte County offered free sand and bags for people to protect their homes.
Melody Washington has been through several hurricanes in Punta Gorda, including Hurricane Charley.
"Believe it or not, this is my first time doing the sandbag thing," she said. "I’ve got some areas that we need to put around the house like the back door and stuff like that. "
For some people, this is the first time they've had to prepare for a storm.
"Trying to stay calm," said Wendy Brooks, who moved to Punta Gorda in November. "When I heard on Friday I started preparing to make sure I was ready and had everything together and just trying not to panic."
That's the key don't panic. Advice from our certified meteorologists and Washington, a Florida native.
"Do what you can and then you just have to trust God with the rest," Washington said.
There are ways to ride out the storm smoothly. Officials want you to know your flood and evacuation zone, which can be found here.
Keep in mind bridges could close in Charlotte County, like U.S. 41 and the I-75 bridge. This will happen if there are sustained tropical force winds, which is between 39-73 mph.