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Governor Ron DeSantis defends Lee County officials evacuation timing as death toll mounts

CORRECTION APTOPIX Tropical Weather Florida
CORRECTS DATELINE TO FORT MYERS BEACH, NOT FORT MYERS – Damaged homes and debris are shown in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

(FORT MYERS, Florida)– Governor Ron DeSantis defended the timing of evacuation orders issued in Lee County as Hurricane Ian bore down on the west coast of the state.

“They were following the data, and you remember people were looking initially at the panhandle on Sunday,” Gov. DeSantis said at a press conference Saturday, “Then Monday came, and people were thinking maybe north of Tampa Bay. When we went to bed Monday night, people were saying this is a direct hit on Tampa Bay, worst-case scenario for the state.”

The governor also added, “As that track started the shift south, and the computer models the next morning, they (Lee County leaders) called for the evacuation, they opened their shelters, and they responded very quickly to the data. But at the end of the day, Fort Myers and Naples, on Sunday, I think at the 11 a.m. advisory, 72 hours out, they weren’t even in the cone. That’s just the reality, so they followed it very closely,”

Other counties in southwest Florida and west-central Florida, including Charlotte County just north of Lee County, issued mandatory evacuation orders on Monday for the barrier islands.

The timing of those orders was crucial for the residents living in a low-lying region with few major escape routes to get out of the area before Ian made landfall.

Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, said “Lee county did not get real notice that they were going to be the center of this thing until about 36-48 hours,”

Guthrie added that the storm’s path was so unpredictable some people in Tampa even tried to escape by traveling south to Fort Myers.

At least 35 county residents were reported dead, making up more than half of the 66 deaths reported in Florida by Sunday morning.