Storm Ian strengthens to Category 4 hurricane as millions urged to evacuate Florida Gulf Coast

Date:

SARASOTA, Florida, Sept. 28 (Reuters) – Hurricane Ian intensified into an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm on Wednesday as it moved closer to Florida’s Gulf Coast, with residents clearing supermarket shelves, closing windows and fleeing to evacuation shelters.

In an update, the US National Hurricane Center placed Ian’s location about 80 miles (80 km) southwest of Punta Gorda, Florida with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kph).

While upgrading Ian an to an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane, the NHC said the storm was expected to weaken somewhat after making landfall.

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“The storm is here,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida’s Department of Emergency Management, who warned of widespread power outages and the possibility of tornadoes.

“Stay indoors. Stay away from windows,” he told an early morning news conference.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned people in Collier, Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties were no longer safe to evacuate and urged people to move off the road and stay indoors.

“It’s time to crouch down and prepare for this storm. This is a powerful storm that should be treated as if a tornado is approaching your home,” he said. “This is going to be a nasty, nasty day or two. This is going to be a tough time.”

Ian slammed into Cuba on Tuesday, leaving the entire Caribbean island nation without power, and was due to make landfall in Florida on Wednesday evening south of Tampa Bay, somewhere between Sarasota and Naples.

Initial hurricane advice on Wednesday had put Ian’s maximum sustained winds near 120 mph (195 kph), making it a Category 3, but said the storm was expected to strengthen.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center warned Ian would also unleash pounding surf, life-threatening coastal flooding and more than a foot of rain in some areas.

Authorities urged more than 2.5 million residents to evacuate their homes to higher elevations.

Florida’s coastal zone most at risk for US landfall is home to miles of sandy beaches, dozens of resort hotels, and countless mobile home parks, a favorite with retirees and vacationers alike.

“We’re right on the water, along a canal, so… this could be devastating,” said Melissa Wolcott Martino, 78, a retired St. Petersburg magazine editor, as she and her husband loaded valuables and pets into their luggage. . car for a drive to their son’s house north of Tampa on Tuesday.

By late Tuesday evening, Ian-generated tropical storm winds extended through the Florida Keys island chain to the southernmost shores of the state’s Gulf Coast, the NHC said.

The NHC also issued storm surge warnings for much of the West Florida coastline, forecasting coastal flooding up to 12 feet from wind-driven high surf.

“The time to evacuate is now. Get out there,” Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s director of emergency management, said at a news conference Tuesday night, urging residents to heed evacuation warnings.

DeSantis had warned late Tuesday that evacuation would be difficult for those who waited much longer to flee, as increasing winds would soon force authorities to close highway bridges.

URGENCY & INDEPENDENCE

“You have to go to higher ground, you have to go to safe structures,” DeSantis said, adding that widespread power outages would leave millions without electricity once the storm hits.

The head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, Deanne Criswell, said she was concerned that too few Florida residents were taking the threat seriously.

“I’m concerned about complacency,” Criswell said Tuesday. “We’re talking about impacts in a part of Florida that hasn’t had a major direct impact in nearly 100 years. There are also parts of Florida that have a lot of new residents.”

If Ian hits the Tampa area, it would be the first hurricane to make landfall there since the Tarpon Springs storm in 1921.

It could also prove to be one of the most expensive, with data modeling service Enki Research predicting storm-related damage ranging from $38 billion to more than $60 billion.

Ian snaked the southeastern edge of the Gulf of Mexico on his way to Florida after beating Cuba, shutting down the power grid for 11 million people and devastated the western end of the island with violent winds and flooding.

Cuba has slowly begun to restore power over the eastern end of the island, the state electricity supplier said early Wednesday.

Cuba’s already fragile network, largely dependent on aging Soviet-era oil-fired power plants, faltered months before the storm. But officials said Hurricane Ian had proved too much, knocking out power even in far eastern Cuba, largely untouched by the storm.

To ease traffic congestion during evacuations, Florida authorities have halted tolls along major highways in central parts of the state and the Tampa Bay area.

Some residents, such as Vanessa Vazquez, 50, a software engineer in St. Petersburg, said they plan to brave the storm at home, despite evacuation warnings.

“I’m staying put,” said Vazquez. “I have four cats and I don’t want to stress them out. And we have a strong house.”

SCHOOLS TO HELPERS

Nearly 60 Florida school districts had canceled classes because of the hurricane, DeSantis said. More than 175 evacuation centers were opened statewide, many of which were school buildings converted into shelters.

“This is a community of mobile homes and they really need this shelter,” said Fabiola Galvan Leon, a kindergarten teacher who acts as a bilingual translator for hundreds of evacuees who flocked to Reddick Elementary School in Wimauma, southeast of Tampa.

Commercial airlines reported more than 2,000 storm-related cancellations of U.S. flights, with the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and Tampa International Airport shut down on Tuesday.

The shelves of a nearby Walmart store had been nearly stripped, though some shoppers hurried down the aisles to grab the last boxes of water, canned goods, and loaves of bread.

The Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) has announced it will be closing Florida theme and water parks on Wednesday and Thursday, while the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers have moved to Miami, where they will practice for their game this week. game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

The storm’s approach also disrupted the Gulf Coast energy industry as personnel were evacuated from 14 production platforms and rigs, halting about 11% of the region’s oil production.

Read more:

FEMA warns Florida of complacency as Hurricane Ian approaches

The worst hurricanes in Florida history as Ian takes aim

How climate change is fueling hurricanes

US offshore oil output plummets as Hurricane Ian hits

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Reporting by Brad Brooks in Sarasota; additional reporting by Maria Alejandra Cardona in Tampa, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Steve Holland, Brendan O’Brien and Tyler Clifford in Washington and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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