Florida orders 2.5 million people to evacuate as officials try to predict where storm will hit
This article was written by the Associated Press and was published in the Toronto Star on September 28, 2022.
Hurricane Ian tore into western Cuba as a major hurricane Tuesday — eventually leaving the entire island without power — then churned on a collision course with Florida over warm Gulf waters amid expectations it would strengthen into a catastrophic Category 4 storm.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” when the hurricane struck with top sustained winds of 205 km/h.
Cuba’s Electric Union said work is being done to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Power was initially knocked out in Cuba’s western provinces, but subsequently the entire grid collapsed.
Ian made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane and devastated the Pinar del Río province, where much of the tobacco used to make Cuba’s iconic cigars is grown.
The storm was expected to grow stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico as it approached the southwest coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.
It was not yet clear precisely where Ian would crash ashore. Its exact track could determine how severe the storm surge is for Tampa Bay, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. Landfall south of the bay could make the impact “much less bad,” McNoldy said.
Gil Gonzalez boarded up his windows Tuesday and had sandbags ready to protect his Tampa home. He and his wife had stocked up on bottled water and packed flashlights, battery packs for their cellphones and a camp stove before evacuating.
“All the prized possessions, we’ve put them upstairs in a friend’s house … and we’ve got the car loaded,” Gonzalez said on his way out.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged people to prepare for extended power outages, and to get out of the storm’s potential path.
“It is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in,” DeSantis told a news conference in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 that could be hit. “And you’re going to end up with really significant storm surge and you’re going to end up with really significant flood events. And this is the kind of storm surge that is life threatening.”
NASA rolled its moon rocket from the launch pad to its Kennedy Space Center hangar, adding weeks of delay to the test flight.
The hurricane warning covered roughly 350 kilometres of Florida’s west coast, including Tampa and St. Petersburg, which could get their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
“It’s a monster and then there’s the confusion of the path,” said Renee Correa, who headed inland to Orlando from the Tampa area. “Tampa has been lucky for 100 years, but it’s a little scary now.”