Summer Willett stocked up on food, water and other basic supplies as she prepared to ride out hurricane Ian at her in-laws’ home in Florida.

The Cornwall, Ont., woman travelled south recently to spend a couple of months with family in Palm Beach, Fla., but her visit took an unexpected turn as the hurricane, which hit Florida’s west coast on Wednesday, moved across the state.

The 26-year-old was out getting supplies Wednesday in preparation for the major storm.

"We're buying water and canned food and flashlights and stuff like that," she said in a phone interview.

"We're going to do our best to stay inside and keep safe .... But we're not leaving as of now. We're going to be in the house until the storm passes."

The massive Category 4 storm lashed Florida’s southwest coast Wednesday with heavy winds and rain after strengthening to a storm that could push 3.6 to 5.5 metres of water across more than 400 kilometres of Florida's western coastline.

Isolated tornadoes spun off the storm well ahead of landfall. One tornado damaged small planes and a hangar at the North Perry Airport, west of Hollywood along the Atlantic coast.

Willett said she and her family had already seen some rough weather.

"We have wind, rain, thunderstorms, tornadoes," she said. "The lights have been flickering. We haven't lost power yet."

Canadians in #Florida hunkering down as hurricane Ian lashes the state. #HurricaneIan

Willett said she was out in the car with her wife on Tuesday night when they received an emergency notification to take shelter as a tornado was hitting the area.

"I was actually shaking, so my wife was actually calming me down because it's new for me and I'm obviously not comfortable. I was freaking out,” she said. “It’s very scary. Honestly, it's overwhelming."

Evan Rachkovsky, the director of research and communications of the Canadian Snowbird Association, said the vast majority of Canadian snowbirds have not moved to Florida for the winter yet.

"Typically, they leave Canada and go to Florida in November," he said in an interview. "Most of our members haven't left yet."

The members of the national not-for-profit advocacy organization have been mostly asking about the right steps to take in case the hurricane damages their properties in Florida, Rachkovsky said.

"Their questions are more around the lines of: what do I do if there is damage to my property? How do I assess it? Should I go down there? When should I go down there?" he said.

"The advice: only go visit your property when it's safe to do so when you're given the OK from the local officials down there."

He said snowbirds should keep a detailed log of all their interactions with their insurance provider and independent adjuster in case they are making an insurance claim and should document any emergency repairs that are needed to prevent any subsequent damage.

More than a million Florida homes and businesses were without electricity Wednesday evening. Florida Power and Light warned those in Ian’s path to brace for days without power.

- with files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.

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