Hurricane Ian strengthened into a Category 4 storm as it headed toward the US state of Florida on Wednesday, with forecasters warning of life-threatening storm surges and “devastating” winds after it reportedly left two dead and millions without power in Cuba.
As of 5 a.m. (0900 GMT), mandatory evacuation orders had been issued in a dozen coastal Florida counties, with voluntary evacuations recommended in several others, according to state emergency services.
In an advisory issued around the same time, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that “Ian has strengthened into an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane.
“Very recent data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicates that maximum sustained winds increased to nearly 140 mph (220 km/h) with higher gusts,” the NHC said.
The storm was expected to make landfall later Wednesday before moving over central Florida and surfacing in the western Atlantic late Thursday.
The NHC previously said a “life-threatening storm surge is expected along Florida’s west coast and the Lower Florida Keys,” with “devastating wind damage” near Ian’s core.
“Catastrophic flooding is expected in parts of central Florida with significant flooding in southern Florida, northern Florida, southeastern Georgia and the coast of South Carolina,” it said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Tuesday evening that at least two “radar-indicated tornadoes” had already struck the state, warning those in areas expected to be the hardest hit that their “time to evacuate is coming to an end.” runs”.
“You need to evacuate now. You will start to feel major effects from this storm relatively soon,” he said.
Calls to heed the evacuation warnings were echoed by US President Joe Biden, who previously said Ian could be “a very serious hurricane, life-threatening and devastating in its impact.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden met with DeSantis — a potential 2024 election challenger — on Tuesday evening to discuss preparations for the storm.
Widespread power outage
Ian plunged all of Cuba into darkness on Tuesday after slamming the west of the country as a Category 3 for more than five hours before returning over the Gulf of Mexico, the Insmet Meteorological Institute said.
The storm damaged Cuba’s electrical grid and left the island “without electrical service,” state electricity company Union Electrica said.
Only the few people with gasoline generators had access to electricity on the island of more than 11 million people. Others had to make do at home with flashlights or candles and lit their way with cell phones as they walked the streets.
In the western town of Pinar del Rio, AFP images showed downed power lines, flooded streets and a scattering of damaged roofs.
“Devastation and devastation. These are terrifying hours. There is nothing left of this,” a 70-year-old resident of the city said in a social media post by his journalist son, Lazaro Manuel Alonso.
About 40,000 people were evacuated in Pinar del Rio province, which was most affected by the storm, local authorities said.
Cuban residents described “destruction” and posted images on social media of flooded streets and felled trees.
At the time of the collision, the NHC reported Ian’s maximum wind speeds of 125 miles (205 kilometers) per hour.
At least two people have been killed in the Pinar del Rio province, according to Cuban state media.
In Consolacion del Sur, southwest of Havana, 65-year-old Caridad Fernandez said her roof was badly damaged and water was coming through her front door.
“Everything we have is damaged,” she said. “But we’ll get through this, we’ll just keep going.”
In San Juan y Martinez, a center for Cuba’s vital cigar industry, “it was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” said Hirochi Robaina of the Robaina tobacco plantation.
‘Life and death’
In Florida, 30-year-old Chelsea Thompson helped her parents close their home in a mandatory evacuation zone southwest of Tampa on Tuesday, saying that “the closer it gets, of course with the unknown, your fear grows a little bit more.”
The Pentagon said 3,200 National Guardsmen had been called up in Florida, with another 1,800 on the way.
Authorities in several municipalities distributed free sandbags to help residents protect their homes from flooding.
Tampa International Airport has suspended operations from 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Biden has approved preventive emergency response in Florida through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
NASA, on the state’s east coast, also took precautions, rolling its massive moon rocket back into a storage hanger for protection.
Like DeSantis, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell emphasized the danger of a storm surge and said it was the agency’s “greatest concern.”
“If people are told to evacuate by their local officials, listen to them. The decision you make could be the difference between life and death,” she said.
Hurricane Ian expected to flood Florida after Cuba goes out of power
© 2022 AFP
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