More than 2.5 million Floridians were told to leave their homes Tuesday as Hurricane Ian approached the west coast of the state. The governor warned that time is “rapidly running out” for people to listen to official warnings and leave.
The storm’s first effects hit Southern Florida Tuesday evening, with rain and strong winds lashing the region and tornado warnings that will last through the night. The Category 3 hurricane was churning at 120 mph Tuesday night, with its center around 180 miles south-southwest of Punta Gorda, close to where it’s anticipated to make landfall in less than 24 hours. Forecasters and officials have been warning for days that this would be a devastating storm with a life-threatening storm surge, flooding, and fierce winds.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Ian’s hurricane-force winds spread 40 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds extended around 140 miles, with some sections of the Florida Keys reporting wind gusts of more than 50 mph. Hurricane Ian hit western Cuba on Tuesday as a major hurricane. There’s nothing stopping it from getting stronger and becoming a Category 4 storm before it hits Florida on Wednesday. Officials there have told 2.5 million people to leave before it gets there.
You must leave immediately. “There will come a moment when it will be unsafe to travel on the highways,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie warned during a news conference Tuesday evening. Ian is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 or Category 4 storm between Sarasota and Port Charlotte on Wednesday afternoon or evening. (Category 4 hurricanes have winds ranging from 130 to 156 miles per hour). Regardless of which of the two it is, one forecaster said the storm will still be a “big and deadly hurricane” for the state, encouraging inhabitants to follow the advice of local leaders.
Ian made landfall in Cuba as a Category 3 hurricane early Tuesday. Cuban official television stated Tuesday night that the entire island was in a national blackout. Cuban officials said the power outage was caused by the hurricane, and they hoped to start restoring power late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Earlier, the state-owned electric provider, Unión Eléctrica de Cuba, said it would turn off the electricity in Havana to prevent deaths and property damage until the weather eased. The businesses said that they turned off the power in the area before the storm so that there wouldn’t be as many electrocutions or fires.
According to Cuban official media, the storm knocked out electricity in the tobacco-rich Pinar del Rio province. Images from state media site Cubadebate show floodwater-covered fields and fallen trees in front of buildings in San Juan de Martinez, a town in the province. The storm center predicted up to 16 inches of rain, mudslides, and flash flooding in western Cuba. Mayelin Suarez, a Pinar del Rio resident, told Reuters that the storm made for the worst night of her life.
More than 1.75 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate Tuesday afternoon, out of the 2.5 million who were under some type of evacuation order. The majority were in Lee County, which includes Fort Myers. Parts of counties in the hurricane alert area extending from north of Tampa to Fort Myers were ordered to evacuate. Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Manatee counties in Tampa, Hernando, Sarasota, and Charlotte counties, as well as sections of Lee County, were included. There are now emergency shelters open.
Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said Tuesday afternoon that in Pinellas County, where more than 440,000 people have been ordered to evacuate, it was becoming too late for citizens to flee. “If you haven’t already evacuated or collected supplies, it’s getting too late.”. “All you have to do is stay put and wait out the storm,” the mayor added.
State authorities were also assisting in the preparation and protection of senior citizens, making on-site visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the storm’s path. Before the storm hit, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency on Tuesday. He said that heavy rain and dangerous winds were coming later in the week.
A storm surge warning is in force for the majority of Florida’s west coast, from Suwanee in the Big Bend region to the tip of the peninsula in the Everglades. A warning has also been issued for the far northeastern coast of Florida, from around the Georgia state line down to Marineland, as well as the St. John’s River further inland.
The worst of the storm is expected to hit Florida’s west coast, from just south of Bradenton down to Bonita Beach, south of Fort Myers, according to the hurricane center. Large storm surges are also conceivable outside of that zone, including Tampa Bay. South Florida forecasters warned that the storm surge might damage buildings and wash many away.
Total rainfall in the Florida Keys and south Florida might exceed 12 inches, with central and northeast Florida receiving up to 24 inches. According to officials, many portions of the state are already saturated. More than double the typical amount of rain has poured across southern Florida in the last two weeks, with some regions receiving more than 6 inches of rain. As Ian approaches the state, multiple rivers in central and western Florida are already over flood stage, increasing flood chances even more.
A hurricane warning, which means winds of at least 74 mph are forecast, affects nearly 8 million people in the west and central Florida, including a region stretching from the Anclote River north of Tampa to Bonita Beach south of Fort Myers. The National Weather Service for Miami and South Florida says that strong winds could damage buildings, blow off roofs, completely destroy mobile homes, and make some areas “uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
As the hurricane made its way closer to Florida, officials announced school closures and travel cancellations, while the military began repositioning ships and aircraft. Officials all around Florida’s west coast are asking citizens to flee rather than stay to defend their property.
Tampa International Airport closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday, and Orlando International Airport will close at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. On Monday, people all over the state waited in long lines to fill sandbags or buy bottled water as they got ready for the storm. A series of closures and cancellations were announced as the storm neared. The HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital in St. Petersburg has reported that services have been discontinued and patients have been transferred.
Colleges and institutions around the state are preparing, including Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach and the University of South Florida in Tampa, by either conducting campus evacuations or switching to online classrooms. By Tuesday evening, more than 50 K–12 school districts had declared closures.
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