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Hurricane Ian hits Cuba, Florida braces for Category 4 damage


HAVANA – Hurricane Ian devastated western Cuba on Tuesday as a major hurricane, with nothing to keep it from intensifying into a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane before hitting Florida on Wednesday.

Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where authorities set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people, dispatched emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in the area. main tobacco producing region of Cuba.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said “significant wind and storm surge impacts” were occurring Tuesday morning in western Cuba. Ian experienced peak winds of 125 mph (205 km/h) as it moved over the town of Pinar del Rio. Up to 14 feet (4.3 meters) of storm surge has been predicted along the Cuban coast.

After passing through Cuba, Ian was expected to strengthen even further over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, hitting peak winds of 140 mph (225 km/h) before making landfall again. Tropical storm-force winds were expected in Florida on Tuesday night, reaching hurricane-force strength Wednesday morning.

The hurricane center said there was a 100% chance of damage from winds and water along Florida’s west coast, issuing a hurricane warning from Bonita Beach north through Tampa Bay to the Anclote river.

Tampa and St. Petersburg could be hit directly by a major hurricane for the first time since 1921.

“Please treat this storm seriously. This is the real deal. This is not a drill,” Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director Timothy Dudley said Monday during a a press conference on preparations for the storm in Tampa.

Western Cuba is relatively sparsely populated, but with tropical storm force winds extending 185 kilometers from central Ian, the Cuban capital was not spared. Havana residents were openly concerned about the flooding ahead of the storm, with workers unclogging storm drains and fishermen pulling their boats out of the water.

“I’m very scared because my house is completely flooded, with water so far,” Adyz Ladron said, pointing to his chest.

In Havana’s El Fanguito, a poor neighborhood near the Almendares River, residents packed what they could.

“I hope we escape this one because it would be our end. We already have so little,” said health worker Abel Rodrigues.

Ian’s forward movement was expected to slow over the Gulf, allowing the hurricane to widen and strengthen before it brought winds and water violent on the west coast of Florida. Forecasters said the rise in ocean waters could reach 10 feet (3 meters) if it peaks at high tide. Rainfall could total 16 inches (41 centimeters) with up to 24 inches (61 centimeters) in isolated areas. Coastal communities could be flooded.

Up to 300,000 people could be evacuated from low-lying areas in Hillsborough County alone, county administrator Bonnie Wise said. Some of those evacuations were beginning 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 running out,” Wise said.

Floridians lined up for hours in Tampa to pick up sandbags and clean shelves at bottled water stores. Governor Ron DeSantis declared a statewide emergency and warned that Ian could hit large areas of the state, knocking out power and disrupting fuel supplies.

“You have a significant storm that could end up being a Category 4 hurricane,” DeSantis said at a Monday news conference. “It’s going to cause a huge storm surge. You’re going to have flooding. You’re going to have a lot of different impacts.”

DeSantis said the state suspended tolls around the Tampa Bay area and mobilized 5,000 Florida State National Guard troops, with another 2,000 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 planned for Tuesday to Florida because of the storm.

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

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Tuesday that they are relocating their football operations to the Miami area in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Damaging winds and flooding were expected across the peninsula as Ian moves north, reaching Georgia, South Carolina and other parts of the southeastern United States on Friday and Sunday, the center said. hurricanes.

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

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