Hurricane Ian hits Cuba, Florida, causes Cat 4 damage – Boston Herald

By CRISTIANA MESQUITA and CURT ANDERSON

HAVANA (AP) – Hurricane Ian tore into western Cuba on Tuesday as a major hurricane, with nothing stopping it from intensifying into a catastrophic Category 4 storm before hitting Florida on Wednesday.

Ian went ashore at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region.

The US National Hurricane Center said “significant wind and storm surge impacts” occurred Tuesday morning in western Cuba. Ian’s peak sustained winds were 125 mph (205 km/h) and storm surges as high as 14 feet (4.3 meters) were predicted along the coast of Cuba.

Ian was forecast to strengthen even more over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, reaching peak winds of 140 mph (225 km/h) before making landfall again. Tropical storm force winds were expected in Florida late Tuesday, reaching hurricane force Wednesday morning.

“Right now we’re focusing on the west-central Florida area as the main area of ​​impact,” hurricane specialist Andy Latto told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“This is a really really big hurricane,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, warning of damage across the state.

Hundreds of thousands of Floridians faced mandatory evacuation orders as the center expanded its hurricane warning to include Bonita Beach north through Tampa Bay to the Anclote River. Fort Myers is in the hurricane zone, and Tampa and St. Petersburg may be their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

“People on the barrier islands who decide not to leave do so at their own peril,” Roger Desjarlais, Lee County’s county executive, said early Tuesday. “The best they can do is leave.”

As Ian’s center passed over western Cuba, with tropical storm-force winds extending outward 115 miles (185 kilometers), Cuba’s capital received rain and strong gusts Tuesday morning. Havana residents were visibly worried about flooding ahead of the storm, with workers clearing storm drains and fishermen taking their boats out of the water.

“I’m very scared because my house is going to be completely flooded, with water up to here,” said Adyz Ladron, pointing to his chest.

In Havana’s El Fanguito, a poor neighborhood near the Almendares River, residents packed what they could.

“I hope we get rid of this because it would be the end of us. We already have so little,” said health worker Abel Rodrigues.

Ian’s forward motion was expected to slow over the Gulf, allowing the hurricane to grow wider and stronger before bringing punishing winds and water to Florida’s west coast. Forecasters said the surge of seawater could reach 10 feet (3 meters) if it peaks at high tide. Rainfall may total 16 inches (41 centimeters) with as much as 24 inches (61 centimeters) in isolated areas. Coastal communities may be flooded.

As many as 300,000 people could be evacuated from low-lying areas in Hillsborough County alone, County Administrator Bonnie Wise said. Some of those evacuations began Monday afternoon in the most vulnerable areas, with schools and other places opening as shelters.

“We must do everything we can to protect our residents. Time is of the essence,” Wise said.

Lee County — where Fort Myers is located on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast — also issued mandatory evacuations early Tuesday for low-lying areas including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Bonita Beach, home to about 250,000 people, after forecasters expanded the hurricane warning area.

“With the kind of tide rise we’re talking about, it wouldn’t be uncommon for both islands to be overwashed, and that’s a dangerous place to be,” Desjarlais said. We cannot by law force people off the islands, but we strongly recommend that they leave.”

Floridians lined up for hours in Tampa to collect bags of sand and cleared store shelves of bottled water. DeSantis declared a statewide emergency and mobilized 5,000 Florida State National Guard troops, with another 2,000 on standby in neighboring states.

President Joe Biden also declared an emergency and authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect life and property. FEMA has strategically placed generators, millions of meals and millions of gallons of water, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

NASA rolled its moon rocket from the launch pad to its Kennedy Space Center hangar, adding weeks of delay to the test flight. The airports in Tampa and St. Petersburg announced they will close Tuesday afternoon. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said they would move football activities to the Miami area on Tuesday in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Damaging winds and flooding were expected across the entire peninsula as Ian moves north, reaching Georgia, South Carolina and other parts of the southeastern United States on Friday and Sunday, the hurricane center said.

Associated Press contributors include Freida Frisaro in Miami, Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida, and Julie Walker in New York.

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