RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Hurricane Ian, which struck Florida as a powerful Category 4 storm, was downgraded to a Category 2 at 9 p.m. Wednesday with winds down to 100 mph.
Ian officially made landfall in Cayo Costa, Florida, around 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday. The latest projected path shows it heading toward the North Carolina mountains Saturday.
As Ian emerges off the east coast of Florida on Thursday evening, it will have the potential to re-strengthen before landfall along the Southeast coast Friday.
Ian approached Florida with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, just 7 mph shy of being a Category 5 storm. Hurricane Ian is the strongest hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since Rita in 2005, and its strength at landfall tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane when measured by wind speed to strike the U.S. Among the other storms was Hurricane Charley, which hit nearly the same spot on Florida's coast in August 2004, killing 10 people and inflicting $14 billion in damage.
Ian continues to gradually weaken as it moves across the Florida peninsula. It remained a Category 2 hurricane at the 10 p.m. update and the storm was moving to north-northeast at 8 mph. The center was about 80 miles south of Orlando.
Hurricane Ian swamped southwest Florida, flooding streets and buildings. Nearly 2 million customers are now without power in the state.
A coastal sheriff's office reported that it was getting many calls from people trapped in homes. The hurricane's center struck near Cayo Costa, a protected barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers.
Forecasters said a catastrophic storm surge of 12-18 feet is happening along the western Florida coastline in and around Fort Myers.
After Hurricane Ian makes landfall, the system will continue through central Florida on Wednesday night through Thursday and emerge briefly off the Florida coast into the western Atlantic Ocean sometime Friday.
By Saturday morning, the storm -- which is expected to no longer be hurricane strength -- will make another landfall somewhere along the Georgia or South Carolina coast. The system will continue on a northwestern path into the North Carolina mountains.
TIMELINE: Ian in North Carolina
Rain will begin in North Carolina Thursday night and will continue through Saturday.
Wind from Ian will start picking up Thursday and last through Saturday.
Localized flooding could start to happen around Friday night. This will coincide with heavy bands of rain from the storm system, meaning the flooding is expected to be localized and not widespread.
With all those conditions combined, power outages are most likely to happen Saturday.
All told it looks like Ian could dump between 3-5 inches of rain across North Carolina.
The entire system will be pushing its way out of North Carolina on Sunday. Monday could still have some unsettled weather on the backend of the storm, including scattered showers and cooler temperatures.
Preps underway in North Carolina
Officials in Raleigh and Durham are already planning for any impacts felt from Hurricane Ian. Officials in Raleigh are making sure flood-prone areas are being looked at to deal with any heavy rains. Meanwhile in Durham city leaders are meeting with Duke Energy to talk about their hurricane preparations.
Hurricane Ian damage
In Florida on Wednesday, Mark Pritchett stepped outside his home in Venice around the time the hurricane churned ashore from the Gulf of Mexico, about 35 miles to the south. He called it "terrifying."
"I literally couldn't stand against the wind," Pritchett wrote in a text message. "Rain shooting like needles. My street is a river. Limbs and trees down. And the worst is yet to come."
News anchors at Fort Myers television station WINK had to abandon their usual desk and continue storm coverage from another location in their newsroom because water was pushing into their building near the Caloosahatchee River.
Jackson Boone left his home near the Gulf coast and hunkered down at his law office in Venice with employees and their pets. Boone at one point opened a door to howling wind and rain flying sideways.
"We're seeing tree damage, horizontal rain, very high wind," Boone said by phone. "We have a 50-plus-year-old oak tree that has toppled over."
WATCH: First Alert to Hurricane Season
In Naples, the first floor of a fire station was inundated with about 3 feet of water and firefighters worked to salvage gear from a firetruck stuck outside the garage in even deeper water, a video posted by the Naples Fire Department showed. Naples is in Collier County, where the sheriff's department reported on Facebook that it was getting "a significant number of calls of people trapped by water in their homes" and that it would prioritize reaching people "reporting life threatening medical emergencies in deep water."
Some decided to try and ride out the storm. Jared Lewis, a Tampa delivery driver, said his home has withstood hurricanes in the past, though not as powerful as Ian.
"It is kind of scary, makes you a bit anxious," Lewis said. "After the last year of not having any, now you go to a Category 4 or 5. We are more used to the 2s and 3s."
Ian made landfall more than 100 miles south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, sparing the densely populated Tampa Bay area from its first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.