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Flooding, wind damage and power outages are among Tampa Mayor's hurricane concerns

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Hurricane Ian is gaining strength on its way to Cuba, and it's predicted to be a Category 4 storm as it approaches Florida's Gulf Coast, though it may lose a bit of intensity before landfall. Evacuations are underway, with state officials warning that this storm is unpredictable. Florida governor Ron DeSantis specifically named Tampa as an area of concern.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

RON DESANTIS: If you look at something like Tampa Bay - very vulnerable area when you talk about some of the storm surge that they're forecasting for a very low-lying area. So that's going to have significant impact.

SUMMERS: And we're joined now by Tampa's mayor, Jane Castor. Hi there.

JANE CASTOR: Hi, Juana. How are you?

SUMMERS: I'm well. Thank you so much for making time for us. We know you're really busy right now. So I'd just like to jump in and ask you to give us a sense of where Tampa is, in terms of preparation. What are your top priorities right now?

CASTOR: Well, actually, our top priorities are getting our residents out of the way of the water here in Tampa. We have over 120 miles of coastline just in the city of Tampa, and so getting individuals out of zone A is the most critical task that we are faced with right now. We have mandatory evacuation in zone A and recommended for zone B.

SUMMERS: Do you have a sense right now if most folks are seeking safer ground between those mandatory and voluntary recommended evacuations that you just talked about?

CASTOR: I do think so. You know, in the past, we've seen storm evacuation notice hesitancy, but I think in the last few years, with the severity of some of these hurricanes and storms, that it really has individuals' attention. And we've communicated - if anything, overcommunicated the seriousness of this particular situation. It's something that we really haven't faced in a long time, as you heard.

SUMMERS: As you are monitoring the storm, what troubles you most?

CASTOR: Well, it all troubles me, frankly. You know, I spent 30 years in law enforcement here in Tampa, and so we're used to dealing with these storms, but if I had to choose a factor between the wind and the storm surge, the water - the indications are that this storm is going to slow. And worst-case scenario is it stalls right over the Tampa Bay area. And so we're looking at anywhere from 24 to 48 hours of constant rain with up to 10-foot tidal surges. And that's - that really is going to be disastrous for our area, so we're trying to get everyone out of those locations, saying that we can always replace property, but we can't bring anyone back to life.

SUMMERS: Earlier, you mentioned your background - your long career in law enforcement. I'm curious if that experience taught you anything that lends some experience to dealing with a situation of this potential magnitude?

CASTOR: Yes, it does. And one of the things that I like to share when people question evacuation notice - I say that, you know, I was involved with Hurricane Michael, Hurricane Charley and Hurricane Andrew, and I can tell you, unequivocally, anyone who stayed during those storms said that they would never do that again. So people need to heed this warning, get to higher ground. We can hide from the wind, but we need to run from the water.

SUMMERS: You mentioned that you believe that there is less hesitancy among people who - heeding those calls to leave, to go elsewhere, seek shelter. Why do you think people are taking these warnings more seriously now?

CASTOR: Well, I think there's, you know, the communication portion of it. It's just on all mediums, so they're being hit from all angles. And then, as I said before, just the last couple of years, the intensity and the severity of these storms is something that, you know, we just can't ignore. And on the upside, if the prediction of the trajectory is incorrect and it goes a little further west, that's to our benefit. But we are still going to have effects from the water. There is no way around that.

SUMMERS: We've got about 30 seconds left. What is your message for any Tampa area or Florida residents who may be listening right now?

CASTOR: My message is please heed the warnings and leave now if you are in an evacuation zone. And it doesn't - you don't have to go hundreds of miles away. You can just go inland to a relative - to a friend's home. We can hide from the wind, but we need to get away from that water in those storm surges.

SUMMERS: That's Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. We're wishing you all the best. Thank you so much.

CASTOR: Thank you, Juana. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.