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Hurricane Ian slammed right into Lee County, Florida, last week, decimating coastal towns and killing dozens of people.

Now, questions are arising about whether county officials gave enough advance notice to residents who should have evacuated before the storm’s landfall last Wednesday.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has defended county officials, saying that they were “following the data” and noted that the storm was originally forecast to make landfall farther north in the state.

But some reporting has suggested that even keeping in mind the shifting forecast, evacuation orders may have been issued later than recommended by the county’s emergency management plan.

Hurricane Ian made landfall on Wednesday afternoon, with the centre of the storm hitting right near the northern edge of Lee County — home to cities like Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

During the weekend before the storm hit, Hurricane Ian’s path looked more like it was heading for areas closer to the Florida panhandle or the Tampa Bay area. But as the storm crept closer to the Florida coast, the forecast started shifting more and more toward the south.

By Monday, two days before landfall, the National Hurricane Centre forecast between four to seven feet (1.2 – 2.1 metres) of storm surge along much of the Lee County coast.

The county’s emergency management plan, approved in 2018, recommends an evacuation of Zone A — the lowest-lying and most coastal areas — when there is a 10 per cent chance of a six-foot (1.8-metre) storm surge.

No evacuations were ordered in Lee County on Monday. But by Tuesday, the forecast had shifted even further south, and it looked clear that Hurricane Ian was heading toward a direct hit on southwest Florida, with between 8 to 12 ft (2.4-3.7 m) of storm surge.

That day, Lee County officials ordered evacuations for Zones A, B and C — the three most vulnerable zones to potential storm surge flooding.

The Independent has reached out to a Lee County spokesperson for comment on the timing of the evacuations.

Speaking to CNN over the weekend, Mr DeSantis noted that the track of the storm looked to be headed farther north earlier in the week as he stood by the county’s decision.

In addition, Kevin Guthrie, the head of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management said at a press conference that county officials made the best decision with the information they had at the time.

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell has also reportedly defended the county response.

“Just 72 hours before landfall, the Fort Myers and Lee County area were not even in the cone of the hurricane,” Ms Criswell told ABC News on Sunday.

“And as it continued to move south, the local officials immediately, as soon as they knew that they were in that threat zone, made the decisions to evacuate and get people to safety.”

Parts of Lee County, especially around Fort Myers, have been completely devastated by the hurricane. And while many people in the storm’s path did evacuate ahead of time, some did not.

Dozens of people have been marked dead from the hurricane as rescue teams and officials continue to search for victims and assess the damage from the storm.

More than 50 per cent of customers in the county were still without power as of Monday, according to

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