Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Cuba

Rain and winds from Hurricane Ian strengthened over the western tip of Cuba, where authorities evacuated 50,000 people, as it became a major Category 3 storm early Tuesday and roared into a path that could see hit the west coast of Florida as a Category 4 hurricane.

The storm made landfall early Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where authorities set up 55 shelters, dispatched emergency personnel and took measures to protect crops in Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region. The US National Hurricane Center said the west coast of the island could see up to 4.3 meters of storm surge.

« Cuba is expecting extreme hurricane-force winds, as well as potentially deadly storm surges and heavy rain, » the hurricane center’s senior specialist, Daniel Brown, told The Associated Press.

After crossing Cuba, Ian is expected to strengthen further over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before reaching Florida as early as Wednesday as a Category 4 storm with peak winds of 225 kilometers per hour.

Farmer Cito Braga puts plastic on a window of his house Monday before Hurricane Ian lands in La Coloma, Cuba. (Alexander Meneghini/Reuters)

In Havana on Monday, fishermen were pulling their boats out of the water along the famous Malecon seaside boulevard, and city workers were unclogging storm drains ahead of the expected rain.

Adyz Ladron, a resident of Havana, said the storm’s potential for rising waters worried him.

« I’m very scared because my house is completely flooded, with water all the way to here, » he said, pointing to his chest.

In Havana’s El Fanguito, a low-income neighborhood near the Almendares River, residents were packing up what they could to leave their homes.

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

The Hurricane Center said in a 4:30 a.m. ET update that Ian made landfall in Cuba as it continued to strengthen, with sustained winds of 205 mph. The center defines a major hurricane as a Category 3 or greater storm, meaning maximum sustained winds of at least 110 mph (178 km/h), and Ian upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane earlier Tuesday.

The center said « significant wind and storm surge impacts » were expected Tuesday morning in western Cuba.

Florida braces for impact

Ian will not linger over Cuba but will slow down over the Gulf of Mexico, widening and strengthening, « which will have the potential to produce significant wind and storm surge impacts along the west coast of the Florida, » the hurricane center said.

Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., appeared to be among the likeliest targets for their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

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Waves crash against a sea wall as Hurricane Ian passes through George Town on the island of Grand Cayman on Monday. (Kevin Morales/Associated Press)

« 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.

A surge of up to three meters of seawater and 25 centimeters of rain was forecast in the Tampa Bay area, with up to 38 centimeters in isolated areas. That’s enough water to flood coastal communities.

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.

Declaration of emergency at the state, federal level

Floridians lined up for hours in Tampa to pick up sandbags and clean shelves at bottled water stores. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a statewide emergency and warned that Ian could hit large areas of the state, knocking out power and disrupting fuel supplies as it swirled north off the state’s Gulf Coast.

« You have a significant storm that could end up being a Category 4 hurricane, » DeSantis said at a press 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. »

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Residents and a Tampa police officer fill sandbags on Monday as Hurricane Ian tracked toward Florida with high winds, torrential rains and a powerful storm surge, at Al Barnes Park in Tampa Bay, in Florida. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

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.

US President Joe Biden has 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 planned to slowly roll its moon rocket from the launch pad to its Kennedy Space Center hangar, adding weeks of delay to the test flight.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Monday night that the football team is relocating football operations to the Miami area in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Buccaneers said the team would leave Tampa on Tuesday.


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