Hurricane Ian was predicted to become a major hurricane overnight as it swept strong winds and a storm surge toward Cuba, expected to flood the island’s west coast, U.S. weather officials said late Monday.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis declared a statewide emergency, saying Ian could hit the state as a punishing Category 4 hurricane, with winds exceeding 130 mph. A direct hit on Tampa Bay is expected as soon as Wednesday.
“That’s going to create a huge amount of storm surge,” DeSantis said. “You will have flooding. You will have many different effects.”
By early Tuesday morning, Ian’s winds had clocked in at 110 mph as it swept into Cuba’s provinces of Isla de la Juventud, Pinar del Río and Artemisa, the hurricane center said.
Coastal water levels were expected to rise by as much as 14 feet, the center said. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from Pinar del Río when authorities sent emergency and medical personnel, The Associated Press reported:.
Two hours east, in Havana, fishermen pulled out their boats, city workers unblocked sewers and residents expressed concern about the prospect of flooding, the AP said.
“I hope we escape this because it would mean our end,” Abel Rodrigues, 54, told the AP. “We already have so little.”
Earlier Monday, Ian passed through the nearby Cayman Islands without major damage being reported. Emergency services issued a “completely clear” notice at 3 p.m. local time, and Prime Minister Wayne Panton said the British territory was “very lucky to have been spared the worst of a potentially very serious storm”.
The latest on Hurricane Ian
- By Monday night, moving northwest at 21 mph, Ian was about 105 miles east-southeast of Cuba’s western tip, with sustained winds increasing to 105 mph.
- Forecasters expect Ian to hit Florida’s west coast as a major hurricane on Tuesday.
- Cuba said it was evacuating 50,000 people in Pinar del Río province, sending medical personnel and emergency services, and taking measures to protect food and other crops in warehouses.
- The center of the hurricane moved to the west of the Cayman Islands on Monday, but no major damage was reported there.
As the storm headed toward Florida, oil companies evacuated workers from deepwater rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, airports in Tampa and Pinellas County announced they would close Tuesday, and American Airlines announced travel exemptions for people flying to or from 20 airports in Florida and the Caribbean.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers said the team is temporarily moving operations to Miami-Dade County.
Residents on Florida’s Gulf Coast stocked up on food and prepared it with sandbags and plywood on their windows. Hundreds of thousands of people were under evacuation orders.
“This storm tends to abate, meaning it could potentially stay on us for 47 hours,” said Cathie Perkins, director of Pinellas County Emergency Management, Tampa’s NBC Affiliate WFLA Reported.
“That’s a lot of rain, and it won’t be able to drain anytime soon,” she said.