Hurricane Ian, considered « extremely dangerous » becomes category 4 as it approaches Florida after sweeping through Cuba.

Ian, which has become an « extremely dangerous » Category 4 hurricane, was preparing to hit Florida in the southern United States on Wednesday, after killing two people the day before in Cuba and plunging the island into darkness due to a general power outage.

Around 2 a.m. local time, evacuation orders had been issued in a dozen coastal counties in Florida, with recommendations to evacuate voluntarily in several other counties, according to the emergency services.

At 5 a.m. local time, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) announced that Ian had strengthened into an « extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane » on the Saffir-Simpson scale which goes up to 5. .

The hurricane, now carrying winds of some 220 km / h, threatens to cause « a potentially deadly storm surge » as well as « catastrophic » winds and floods, according to the NHC.

In its previous bulletin, the NHC had estimated that « Ian’s eye should advance towards central Florida on Wednesday night and Thursday morning and appear over the western Atlantic by late Thursday. « .

Tuesday evening, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had estimated that the hurricane should make landfall Wednesday afternoon.

« Devastating »

According to US President Joe Biden, Ian “could be a very violent hurricane, the impact of which would be devastating and put lives at risk”.

Mr. Biden has already approved federal emergency aid for 24 of Florida’s 67 counties.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden spoke about preparations on Tuesday evening with Mr. DeSantis, a potential rival in the 2024 election.

Strong winds were already sweeping the Keys archipelago and part of the southwest coast of Florida, according to the NHC.

“The closer he gets, the more the anxiety obviously rises with the unknown,” observed Chelsea Thompson, 30, who was helping her parents secure their home Tuesday in an evacuation zone southwest of Tampa.

Tampa airport suspended its activity late Tuesday afternoon.

According to the Pentagon, 3,000 National Guard men are mobilized in Florida, with 1,800 more on the way.

NASA, the American space agency, has given up the takeoff scheduled for Tuesday of its new mega-rocket for the Moon, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Hurricane Ian, then in category 3, had previously hit Cuba on Tuesday, devastating the west of the country for five hours before heading towards the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Cuban meteorological institute Insmet.

Two people were killed in the western province of Pinar del Rio according to Cuban state media and the island was plunged entirely into darkness.

The country of 11.2 million people is « without electric service », tweeted the state electricity company Union Eléctrica.

While the effects of the hurricane were still being felt on the coast, at night, residents walked the streets guided by their mobile phones, and some houses were lit by candles or flashlights.

The eye of the hurricane left Cuban territory at 9:50 a.m. near Puerto Esperanza, according to the Insmet.

“Considerable damage”

Violent winds and intense rains persisted in the west of the island where the hurricane sowed desolation in several localities, noted AFP journalists.

On the road to San Juan y Martinez, 190 km from Havana, the province of Pinar del Rio, where most of the country’s tobacco plantations are located, was hard hit.

Crops were flooded, trees uprooted and electric wires littered the ground.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do this season,” laments Yuslan Rodriguez, a 37-year-old tobacco farmer whose plantation, like others, was destroyed.

Wind gusts reached 208 km/h in San Juan y Martinez.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the most affected area in Pinar del Rio on Tuesday. “The damage is significant,” he said on Twitter, assuring that help had been sent.

Some 40,000 people have been evacuated in Pinar del Rio province and « the damage is considerable », said local Communist Party official Yamilé Ramos.

Ian follows Hurricane Fiona, which ravaged the Atlantic coast of Canada on Saturday, killing three people, after the Caribbean last week where seven people died.

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