ST. LOUIS – With Hurricane Ian on approach to southwest Florida, preparations are underway for its arrival.

Tampa International Airport has already shut down to prepare for the storm’s impact. Orlando International will close at 10:30 Wednesday morning. Miami’s airport remains open, but with multiple delays and cancellations. This is a mess for those with travel plans, but it is the people along Florida’s southwest coast that are truly most impacted.

Hurricane Ian is forecasted to strengthen over warm Gulf of Mexico waters as it approaches Florida’s southwest coast.

“As it’s getting closer, people are starting to take things a little more seriously,” Ben Bockelmann said.

The former St. Louisan lives in the suburbs southeast of Tampa, about 10 miles from the coast. The Edwardsville High School graduate said he, his wife, and step-daughter are prepared to ride out the storm.

“We’re a little more inland, so things aren’t quite as crazy where we live,” Bockelmann said. “Most of the people are just stocking up on the essentials. Water. Bread. The basic food items.”

He said schools are closed, so they can be used as shelters. His wife works at Tampa General Hospital on Davis Island, which was hit hard by Irma in 2017.

“They’re expecting it to be every bit as worse, if not way worse this time. They ultimately decided that anyone who is a non-essential employee of the hospital, they don’t want them coming in until Monday of next week,” Bockelmann said.

Many who live closer to the coast are heeding warnings to move to safer areas.

“We’ve got some friends in the downtown Tampa area that are actually going to come stay with us for a couple of days. They want to make sure they are safe,” Bockelmann said. “They’ve got a lot of older trees around them.”

Bockelmann said his in-laws live closer to St. Petersburg and are choosing to stay and protect their property.

“They’ve got concerns of whether or not they’ll be able to get back to their house crossing the bridges after everything passes through,” he said.

Bockelmann said his biggest concern is losing power for a long time. He said residents in the area are worried about the flooding rains.