Hurricane Ian is “rapidly intensifying” hitting the southwest coast of Florida with warnings it is about to cause “catastrophic” storm surge and “deadly” flooding.
US President Joe Biden said Ian was incredibly dangerous and he urged residents to obey all Category Four storm warnings.
More than two million people were under evacuation orders.
“This storm is bigger than Florida” – Last Hurricane Ian
Ian’s winds increased to nearly 155 mph as conditions “deteriorate rapidly” along the coast.
The storm surge could reach 12 to 18 feet (3 to 5 meters) above ground level in some areas, with “damaging waves”.
It is expected to dump 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) of rain over a wide area including Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville in the northeast corner of the state.
“Follow emergency evacuation orders”
Among the places that will be hardest hit in the Southwest are Englewood in Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbour, and residents “should urgently follow any evacuation orders in effect,” the National Hurricane said. Center (NHC).
And hurricane-force winds were predicted to extend well inland near the core (innermost region of the storm).
An extreme wind warning was in place for Englewood, Rotonda and Grove City until 2pm local time (7pm UK time) and people were asked to treat the winds as if a tornado was approaching by moving into an “inner room now”.
The NHC Storm Surge Twitter account wrote: “Eyewall of Ian moving ashore! Catastrophic storm surge with destructive waves expected.”
The eye of a storm is typically 30 km (19 miles) in diameter. It is surrounded by the eyewall where the most extreme weather conditions and strongest winds occur.
Tropical storm conditions began in the southern state Wednesday morning local time, and extreme conditions are expected to continue overnight.
Heavy rain will spread across the peninsula through Thursday and reach parts of the southeast later this week and over the weekend.
About two-thirds of Florida is on the peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
The NHC added: “Wide and life-threatening catastrophic flooding is expected in parts of central Florida with extensive flooding in southern Florida, northern Florida, southeast Georgia and coastal from South Carolina.
“Widespread and prolonged moderate to major river flooding is expected in central Florida.”
‘One Wicked, Wicked Two Days’
Mr Biden said he spoke to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis about Ian on Tuesday, adding that the federal government had responded to all requests for help from the coastal state.
“It’s going to be a bad day, two days,” Mr. DeSantis said. “Probably, we think now, it will come out of the peninsula on Thursday.”
Hurricane Ian tears Cuba apart
Hurricane Ian leaves millions in Cuba without power
Meanwhile, Cuban officials said they began restoring power after Ian knocked out power across the island while devastating some of the country’s largest tobacco plantations when he hit the western tip of the island as a major storm.
Ian made landfall there on Tuesday as a category three storm, causing flooding, damaged homes and trees toppled by high winds.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area before he arrived.