TRACK, MODELS, SATELLITE: Hurricane Ian hits Florida

ORLANDO, Florida. – Hurricane Ian slammed into western Cuba as a major hurricane on Tuesday and left 1 million people without power, then followed a collision course with Florida over warm Gulf waters and turned into a catastrophic disaster Category 4 storm.

By early Wednesday, Ian had transitioned to near Category 5 status west-southwest of Naples, Fla., and was moving north-northeast at nearly 10 mph. Ian’s maximum sustained winds are near 155 mph, with higher gusts.

Ian made landfall in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where authorities set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people, dispatched emergency personnel and took action to protect crops in the country’s main tobacco-growing region. The US National Hurricane Center said Cuba experienced “significant wind and storm surge impacts” when the hurricane struck with sustained winds of 125 mph (205 km/h).

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Ian was expected to get even stronger over the course of the warm gulf of mexicoreaching peak winds of 130 mph (209 km/h) as it approached the southwest coast of Florida, where millions have been ordered to evacuate.

Tropical storm-force winds were expected across the Southern Peninsula on Tuesday evening, reaching hurricane force on Wednesday – when the eye of the hurricane was expected to make landfall. With tropical storm-force winds extending 140 miles (185 kilometers) from the center of Ian, damage was expected across a wide area of ​​Florida.

It was not yet known exactly where Ian would crash to earth. Current models show the storm making landfall south of Tampa Bay, possibly as far south of Port Charlotte.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis urged people to prepare for extended power outages and to move away from the storm’s potential path.

“It’s a big storm, it’s going to kick up a lot of water when it comes in,” DeSantis told a news conference in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 that could be affected. “And you’re going to end up with really big storm surge and you’re going to end up with really big flood events. And that’s the kind of storm surge that’s life threatening.

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Hundreds of residents were being evacuated from several Tampa-area nursing homes, where hospitals were also moving some patients. Airports in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando and Key West have closed. Walt Disney World and Universal closed their Orlando theme parks Wednesday and Thursday, as did SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

Nasa rode his moon rocket from the launch pad to its Kennedy Space Center hangar, adding weeks of delay to the test flight.

Forecasters said the rise in ocean waters could reach 10 feet (3 meters) if it peaks at high tide. Rainfall near the landing area could exceed 16 inches (41 centimeters).

“It’s a freak and then there’s the confusion of the path,” said Renee Correa, who headed to Orlando from the Tampa area with her daughter and Chihuahua. “Tampa was lucky for 100 years, but it’s a little scary now.”

Kelly Johnson was preparing to hide out at her home two blocks from the beach in Dunedin, west of Tampa. She said she would escape to the second floor if the seawater surged inland and that she had a generator ready in case she lost power.

“I’m a Floridian, and we know how to deal with hurricanes,” Johnson said. “It’s part of living in paradise – knowing that every now and then those storms come your way.”

Forecasters have warned that the hurricane will be felt over a wide area as it crosses Florida with an expected northward turn. Flash flooding was possible across the state, and parts of Florida’s east coast faced a potential storm surge threat as Ian’s bands approached the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of Georgia and South Carolina could also see torrential rains this weekend.

As the center of the storm moved into the Gulf, scenes of destruction emerged in Cuba’s famous tobacco belt. The owner of leading cigar producer Finca Robaina posted photos on social media of broken wooden and thatched roofs on the ground, greenhouses in rubble and overturned wagons.

“It was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” wrote Hirochi Robaina, grandson of the operation’s founder.

An Apopka family prepares for the storm that is expected to hit central Florida. They fear that their property will be consumed by water following heavy rains.

State media released photos showing flowing water in the town of San Juan y Martinez. The western provinces of Pinar del Rio and Artemisa were completely without electricity.

Local government station TelePinar reported heavy damage to the main hospital in the town of Pinar del Rio, tweeting photos of collapsed ceilings, toppled trees and debris thrown onto its property. No deaths have been reported.

At the White House, President Joe Biden said his administration was sending hundreds of Federal Emergency Management Agency workers to Florida and seeking to assure mayors in the storm’s path that Washington would meet their needs. He urged residents to comply with orders from local authorities.

“Your safety is more important than anything,” he said.

Hurricane season extends through November.

Check back for updates.

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