Hurricane Ian Nears Cuba On Path To Strike Florida As Category 4

HAVANA (AP) – Hurricane Ian was strengthening as it headed toward Cuba on a track to hit Florida’s west coast as a major hurricane Wednesday.

Ian was forecast to hit the western tip of Cuba as a major hurricane and then strengthen to an even stronger Category 4 with winds in excess of 140 mph (225 km/h) over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before hitting Florida .

As of Monday, Tampa and St. Petersburg appeared to be the most likely targets for their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

“Please take this storm seriously. It’s the real deal. This is not a drill,” Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director Timothy Dudley said at a press conference on preparations for the storm in Tampa

Cuban authorities were evacuating 50,000 people in Pinar del Rio province, sending medical and emergency personnel and taking steps to protect food and other crops in warehouses, according to state media.

“Cuba expects extreme hurricane-force winds, as well as life-threatening storm surges and heavy rainfall,” U.S. National Hurricane Center Senior Specialist Daniel Brown told The Associated Press.

The hurricane center predicted areas along Cuba’s western coast could see up to 14 feet (4.3 meters) of storm surge Monday night or early Tuesday.

In Havana, fishermen were taking their boats out of the water along the famous Malecón, the seafront, and city workers were unclogging storm drains ahead of the expected rain.

Havana resident Adyz Ladron, 35, said the potential for storm surge is a concern.

“I’m very scared because my house is completely flooded, with water up to here,” he said, pointing to his chest.

In Havana’s El Fanguito, a poor neighborhood near the Almendares River, residents were packing to leave their homes, many of which show damage from previous storms.

“I hope we get out of this because it would be our end. We have very little,” said 54-year-old paramedic Abel Rodrigues.

By Monday afternoon, Ian was moving northwest at 20 km/h (13 mph), about 155 miles (250 kilometers) southeast of the western tip of Cuba, with sustained winds increasing to 100 mph (155 km/h).

Residents of the El Fanguito neighborhood carry a mattress to safety in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Ian in Havana, Cuba, on Monday.
Residents of the El Fanguito neighborhood carry a mattress to safety in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Ian in Havana, Cuba, on Monday.

The hurricane’s center passed west of the Cayman Islands, but there was no major damage on Monday, and residents were returning to the streets as winds died down.

“Looks like we dodged the bullet,” said Grand Cayman resident Gary Hollins. “I’m a happy camper.”

Ian will not make landfall in Cuba, but will slow over the Gulf of Mexico, becoming wider and stronger, “which will have the potential to produce significant wind and surge impacts on Florida’s west coast,” he said the hurricane center.

A surge of up to 10 feet (3 meters) of ocean water and 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain was predicted in the Tampa Bay area, with up to 15 inches (38 centimeters) in isolated areas It is enough water to flood coastal communities.

As many as 300,000 people may be evacuated from low-lying areas in Hillsborough County alone, County Administrator Bonnie Wise said. Some of those evacuations began Monday afternoon in the most vulnerable areas, with schools and other places open as shelters.

“We must do everything we can to protect our residents. Time is of the essence,” Wise said.

Floridians lined up for hours in Tampa to pick up sandbags and clean bottled water store shelves. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a statewide emergency and warned that Ian could strike large areas of the state, cutting power and disrupting fuel supplies as it turns north along the Gulf Coast been

“You have a major storm that may end up being a Category 4 hurricane,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “That’s going to cause a lot of storm surge. You’re going to have flooding events. You’re going to have a lot of different impacts.”

Waves crash against the patio of the Lobster Pot restaurant as Hurricane Ian passes through George Town, Grand Cayman Island, on Monday.
Waves crash against the patio of the Lobster Pot restaurant as Hurricane Ian passes through George Town, Grand Cayman Island, on Monday.

Kevin Morales via Associated Press

DeSantis said the state has suspended tolls in the Tampa Bay area and mobilized 5,000 Florida National Guard troops, with 2,000 more on standby in neighboring states.

President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property. The president postponed a trip scheduled for Tuesday to Florida because of the storm.

Playing it safe, NASA planned to slowly roll its moon rocket from the launch pad to its hangar at Kennedy Space Center, adding weeks of delay to the test flight.

Flash flooding was forecast for much of the Florida peninsula, and heavy rain was possible in the southeastern United States later this week. With tropical storm-force winds extending 115 miles (185 kilometers) from Ian’s center, watches covered the Florida Keys to Lake Okeechobee.

Bob Gualtieri, sheriff of Pinellas County, Florida, which includes St. Petersburg, said at a briefing that while no one will be forced to leave, mandatory evacuation orders are expected to begin Tuesday.

“What it means is that we’re not going to come help you. If you don’t, you’re on your own,” Gualtieri said.

Areas to evacuate include all of Tampa Bay and the rivers that feed it. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch urged residents not to ignore any evacuation orders.

“This is a very real threat that this storm poses to our community,” Welch said.

The hurricane center has advised Floridians to have survival plans and to monitor updates on the storm’s evolving path.

Associated Press contributors include Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida; Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida; and Julie Walker in New York.

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