PERRY, Fla. (AP) — Hurricane Idalia made landfall Wednesday in Florida as a Category 3 storm and unleashed devastation along a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast, submerging homes and vehicles, turning streets into rivers, unmooring small boats and downing power lines before sweeping into Georgia.
Almost 438,000 customers in Florida and Georgia lost power while rushing water covered streets near the coast. As the eye moved inland, high winds shredded signs, sent sheet metal flying and snapped tall trees.
Idalia came ashore in the lightly populated Big Bend region, where the Florida Panhandle curves into the peninsula. It made landfall near Keaton Beach at 7:45 a.m. as a high-end Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 125 mph (205 kph).
As of midday Wednesday, there were no confirmed storm deaths in Florida, although fatal traffic accidents in two counties may end up being storm-related, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference.
A 59-year-old man driving a pickup truck in heavy rain veered off the road outside Gainesville. In Dade City, north of Tampa, a 40-year-old man lost control of his pickup and crashed into a tree, authorities said.
State officials, 5,500 National Guardsman and rescue crews were in search-and-recovery mode, inspecting bridges, clearing toppled trees and looking for anyone in distress in one of Florida’s most rural regions.
Because of the remoteness, search teams may need more time to complete their work compared with past hurricanes in more urban areas, said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Department of Emergency Management.
“You may have two houses on a 5-mile (8-kilometer) road so it’s going to take some time,” Guthries said.
On the island of Cedar Key, downed trees and debris blocked roads, and propane tanks exploded.
RJ Wright stayed behind on Cedar Key so he could check on elderly neighbors. He hunkered down with friends in a motel and when it was safe, walked outside into chest-high water. It could have been a lot worse for the island, which juts into the Gulf, since it didn’t take a direct hit, he said.
“It got pretty gnarly for a while, but it was nothing compared to some of the other storms,” Wright said.
The system remained a hurricane as it crossed into Georgia with top winds of 90 mph (150 mph), after drenching Florida mostly to the east of Tallahassee. Forecasters said it would punish the Carolinas overnight as a tropical storm.
Some models had predicted that Idalia could circle southward toward land again after that, but the National Hurricane Center predicted it would move deeper into the Atlantic this weekend.