By Staff and Wire Reports 

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Florida’s governor has declared a state of emergency for the entire state, days before a hurricane named Ian is expected to make landfall, raising the dread level for property insurers fearing heavy weather losses during one of the toughest moments for the industry.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ declaration also triggered a bulletin from the state Office of Insurance Regulation, reminding health insurers and workers’ compensation insurers to allow early refills of prescription medicines.

Insurers licensed by OIR “shall waive time restrictions on prescription medication refills, which include suspension of electronic ‘refill too soon’ edits to pharmacies,” the office said.

The impending storm also forced the postponement of a Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation workshop on physician dispensing rules that was set for Thursday in Tallahassee.

The National Hurricane Center said Ian was expected to become a major hurricane before making landfall by Thursday. The storm sucked up energy Monday morning from an area in the Caribbean Sea with “super warm water,” low wind shear and favorable steering currents — factors that will make the storm stronger, the Miami Herald reported.

A range of landfall scenarios from the southwest Florida Peninsula to the western Florida Panhandle are very plausible this week, said a report from Guy Carpenter, the reinsurance firm.

“At this point really the right message for those living in Florida is that you have to watch forecasts and get ready and prepare yourself for potential impact from this tropical system,” John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based NHC told the Associated Press.

The NHC most-likely forecast splits the difference with a track through the Florida Big Bend region, an area far from the largest cities but still vulnerable to residential and commercial losses. To give an idea of the potential for property losses in the area, Insurance Journal looked at data from the OIR’s Quarterly and Supplement Report from insurers. For the eight coastal counties in the Big Bend area, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the largest property writer in the state, held more than 27,400 policies at the end of the second quarter this year. That translates to billions in exposure.

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For one sparsely populated county in the area, Wakulla, just south of the state capital of Tallahassee, Citizens had some 488 policies in force. The total exposure, including wind coverage, comes to about $91 million. Since the second quarter report, exposures have increased sharply in many areas. In Hernando County, closer to Tampa, for example, Citizens now has 22,628 policies and some $8.2 billion in exposure, a spokesman for Citizens said Monday.

Even if the hurricane is not as powerful as some major storms in years past, rising material costs could mean huge costs for insurers.

If the storm turns slightly to the east, it could affect the Tampa Bay area, which is home to about 3 million people and is particularly vulnerable to storm surge and coastal flooding, according to news reports.

In Pinellas Park, near Tampa, people were waiting in line at a Home Depot when it opened at 6 a.m., the Tampa Bay Times reported. Manager Wendy Macrini said the store had sold 600 cases of water by the early afternoon and ran out of generators.

People also were buying up plywood to put over their windows: “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” Matt Beaver, of Pinellas Park, told the Times.

The governor’s declaration frees up emergency protective funding and activates members of the Florida National Guard, his office said. His order stresses that there is risk for a storm surge, flooding, dangerous winds and other weather conditions throughout the state.

Elsewhere, powerful post-tropical cyclone Fiona crashed ashore early Saturday in Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Canada region. The storm washed houses into the sea, tore rooftops off others and knocked out power to the vast majority of two Canadian provinces with more than 500,000 customers affected at the storm’s height.

Graphic: Probability wind map for Hurricane Ian. The purple indicates 90% or greater chance of tropical-storm-force winds (39 mph or greater). Source: National Weather Service, as of early Monday morning, Sept. 26.