Hurricane Idalia smashes into Florida; too soon to gauge impact or damage to dealerships

Hurricane Idalia smashed into Florida’s western coast about 7:45 a.m. EST Wednesday as an “extremely dangerous” Category 3 storm, bringing winds of 125 mph and heavy rains, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Ted Smith, president of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, which represents hundreds of dealerships in the state, said it’s too soon to know the impact to stores or the extent of damage.

Smith, of Tallahassee, said he evacuated on Tuesday.

I actually left yesterday because it appeared that we were going to get hit with 100 mph winds,” Smith told Automotive News. “I’m obviously on top of what’s happening in Tallahassee and we’ve been really blessed.

“The storm has gone to the east of us, up through the county of Taylor and east of Tallahassee, so that’s not as populated of an area, which is a blessing.”

The storm made landfall near Keaton Beach along Florida’s Big Bend area. Floodwaters have begun to swallow roads and close bridges. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency in at least 46 counties, according to the Associated Press.

Georgia and the Carolinas are next in Idalia’s path.

Some dealerships closed ahead of Idalia’s arrival, including those under the Nimnicht Family of Dealerships in the Jacksonville, Fla., area, which posted a LinkedIn message signaling the closure Wednesday: “We plan to re-open with regular business hours on Thursday, August 31st. Please be safe!”

Morgan Automotive Group, one of the largest dealership groups in the country with dozens of stores across the state, said its dealerships appeared to be relatively unscathed so far. Its stores were operating Wednesday with reduced staffing.

“All in all, we dodged a bullet even in the area where the hurricane hit landfall,” Morgan Automotive Chairman Larry Morgan said in an email. “So far, no injuries or serious damage to facilities. Of course, we are losing at least two days of business here at month end as customers are preoccupied.”

Penske Automotive Group spokesman Anthony Pordon said via email that the retailer’s Florida stores remained open as of Wednesday morning.

“Penske Automotive operates dealerships in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm and Orlando,” Pordon said. “We did not close any dealerships. We took precautions to prepare for any potential change in the forecasted path of the storm but operations remained normal.”

Gail Kachadourian Howe contributed to this report.

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