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Hurricane Ian strengthens as Cuba and Florida brace for affect

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Hurricane Ian has moved near the Cayman Islands and western Cuba, the place authorities are bracing for heavy rainfall and “devastating” wind, because the storm is anticipated to accentuate additional earlier than hitting the US state of Florida as a significant hurricane later this week.

The fast-growing storm was positioned about 160km (100 miles) west of Grand Cayman, barreling northwest in the direction of Cuba with most sustained winds of 130km per hour (80 miles per hour), making it a Category 1 hurricane on a five-step scale.

“Devastating wind damage is possible where the core of Ian moves across western Cuba,” the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) mentioned on Monday morning.

Ian is forecasted to achieve momentum over the nice and cozy waters of the Gulf of Mexico, upgrading to a Category 4 hurricane earlier than slamming into Florida on Wednesday.

“Please treat this storm seriously. It’s the real deal. This is not a drill,” Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director Timothy Dudley mentioned throughout a Monday information convention on storm preparations within the US metropolis of Tampa, Florida.

Authorities have urged residents to make preparations, and officers within the Cayman Islands, Cuba, and Florida have taken steps to brace for the results of the hurricane.

Cuba over the weekend started evacuating vacationers and a few employees from Isla de la Juventud and Cayo Largo, off its southwestern coast, the place the hurricane was anticipated to make landfall on Monday night.

The nation was additionally shutting down its practice system in advance of the worst climate, and officers have positioned the island’s western provinces beneath a hurricane alert and have introduced plans for allocating meals and evacuating individuals from low-lying areas.

At a bakery within the Cuban capital simply after dawn on Monday, the road for bread had swelled to nearly twice its regular size, occupying a number of blocks, as demand rose for fundamental items earlier than the storm.

“I’m buying bread now because later in the afternoon I won’t be able to leave my house,” mentioned Guillermo Gomez, 79, as he waited to enter the bakery. “The water will be up to my knees.”

The hurricane seems set for a direct hit on the tobacco-growing province of Pinar del Rio, a extra calmly populated space of the island devoted primarily to farming and fishing.

“Cuba is expecting extreme hurricane force winds, also life-threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall,” NHC senior specialist Daniel Brown advised The Associated Press information company early on Monday.

On the Cayman Islands, Premier Wayne Panton mentioned plywood and sandbags have been being distributed. The island should “prepare for the worst and absolutely pray and hope for the best”, he mentioned in a video posted on Sunday.

Cayman Islands airports halted operations on Sunday as a result of hurricane, officers mentioned, and the island’s climate service predicted waves of as much as 4.three metres (14 ft).

In the Tampa Bay space of Florida, which might expertise a surge of as much as 2.Four metres (7.9 ft) of ocean water and 250mm (9.eight inches) of rain, residents lined up at shops to purchase sandbags and bottles of water.

Evacuations are anticipated, and as much as 300,000 individuals might be evacuated from areas in Hillsborough County, county administrator Bonnie Wise mentioned at a information convention on Monday. Schools have been closed by means of Thursday and are anticipated to open as emergency shelters.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency all through Florida, and US President Joe Biden additionally declared an emergency over the hurricane, releasing up extra authorities sources to offer help.

A hurricane watch has been issued for Florida’s central western coast, together with the Tampa Bay space, and flash flooding is feasible within the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula by means of midweek.

Northern Florida might additionally expertise heavy rainfall, together with the Florida panhandle and the southeast United States.

A forecast on Monday morning said that Tampa and St Petersburg might expertise the primary direct hit by a significant hurricane in a century.

Bob Gualtieri, sheriff of Pinellas County, Florida, which incorporates St Petersburg, mentioned in a briefing that no one could be compelled out of their houses, even when evacuation orders have been necessary. But he warned that those that refused to heed the warning could be alone.

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

St Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch additionally urged residents to not ignore any evacuation orders. “This is a very real threat that this storm poses to our community,” Welch mentioned.

Hurricane Fiona rocked Puerto Rico, Bermuda and Canada final week, with winds as much as 140kmph (87mph) slamming Puerto Rico and leaving the island with out energy.

Eastern Canada additionally skilled energy outages on account of the storm, and the Canadian navy has been mobilised to help with restoration efforts.

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