Dealerships close in Florida as Hurricane Ian unleashes ‘catastrophic’ conditions

Florida experienced “catastrophic” conditions Wednesday after dealerships from Tampa to Florida’s Atlantic Coast had closed in anticipation of Hurricane Ian.

“Most, if not all, of my dealers have closed Wednesday and Thursday,” Central Florida Auto Dealers Association CEO Evelyn Cardenas wrote in an email Wednesday. “They have been working hard over the past two days to prepare to ensure the safety of their staff and stores.”

The National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center at 2 p.m. EDT said the Category 4 hurricane sat 25 miles northwest of Fort Myers, Fla., and was moving northeast at 9 mph with sustained winds of 155 mph.

The weather service said Ian was “causing catastrophic storm surge, winds and flooding” in the state.

“Hurricane conditions are ongoing within the Hurricane Warning area now and will slowly spread northeastward through the day,” the weather service said.

As of 2 p.m. EDT, a hurricane warning was in effect on the Florida mainland’s Gulf Coast from the Anclote River area to Chokoloskee, Fla., a region that includes the Tampa Bay and Fort Myers areas, and from the Sebastian Inlet to the Volusia County line on the east coast.

“[T]he center of Ian is expected to move onshore soon, move over central Florida tonight and Thursday morning and emerge over the western Atlantic by late Thursday,” the weather service said.

Hurricane-force winds of 75 mph extended 45 miles from the center of the storm, the weather service said.

Florida’s Gulf Coast from the Suwanee River at the Panhandle all the way to Flamingo, Fla., in the south carried a storm surge warning, signifying a risk of life-threatening surges. The northeastern part of the state from the Georgia border to the Palm Coast, Fla., area and in the St. Johns River area also were under storm surge warnings.

Widespread catastrophic flooding was expected in Central Florida. Tornadoes were also a possibility, particularly in the east-central part of the state, the weather service said.

Asbury Automotive Group Inc. said it would close its final four locations in the state by noon Wednesday after having already closed 13 of its 24 stores Tuesday and seven more Wednesday morning.

Penske Automotive Group closed its Orlando location, Central Florida Toyota, for Wednesday and Thursday. The website for Palm Beach Toyota in West Palm Beach, Fla., said the dealership’s sales and service departments would close at 1 p.m. but reopen Thursday.

“We continue to monitor the situation and have taken precautions to ensure the safety of our employees and customers. We have closed the dealership in Orlando for today and tomorrow – again, the safety of our employees and customers is our top priority,” Penske spokesman Anthony Pordon wrote in an email. The statuses of the company’s Penske Collision location in West Palm Beach and its Porsche West Broward store in Davie, Fla., were unclear.

Southeast Florida-based F&I product provider JM&A Group’s Deerfield Beach, Fla., offices were closed, spokeswoman Lauren Fyke wrote in an email Wednesday. “[O]ur associates who can do so are working remotely to continue serving our dealers, and our associates outside of the storm’s path maintain business as usual,” she wrote. “There should be no interruption to our JM&A Group operations.”

Ed Morse Automotive Group had been moving about 500 vehicles inside its locations since Friday.

It provided images Tuesday of the vehicle-packed interiors of the Brandon, Fla.-based Ed Morse Alfa-Romeo-Fiat and Ed Morse Cadillac Brandon and the Tampa, Fla.-based Ed Morse Cadillac Tampa and Ed Morse Mitsubishi. The locations closed at noon Tuesday.

The dealership’s storm preparation can include moving as much inventory inside as possible, starting with the most expensive vehicles, according to CEO Teddy Morse.

“It’s not as much of an issue as in years past because obviously we don’t have as much inventory as we used to,” he told Automotive News on Tuesday.

Melissa Burden, Hillary Rubin and Hannah Brock contributed to this report.

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