26 September 2022

Hurricane Ian gathers strength and heads toward Cuba and Florida

26 September 2022

Hurricane Ian moved near the Cayman Islands and closer to western Cuba early on Monday on a track to hit Florida as a major hurricane this week.

Ian was forecast to intensify rapidly and become a major hurricane as soon as late Monday and become a category four hurricane before striking the west central coast of Florida on Wednesday.

Authorities in Cuba suspended classes in the Pinar del Rio province and planned evacuations on Monday as Ian gained strength on approach to Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa.

“Cuba is expecting extreme hurricane force winds, also life threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall,” US National Hurricane Centre senior specialist Daniel Brown told the Associated Press early Monday.

The US National Hurricane Centre said Ian should reach far-western Cuba late on Monday or early on Tuesday, hitting near the country’s tobacco fields.

Cuba state media outlet Granma said authorities would begin evacuating people from vulnerable areas early on Monday.

At 5am on Monday, Ian was moving north west at 13mph, about 90 miles south west of Grand Cayman, according to the centre.

It had maximum sustained winds of 75mph.

Meanwhile, residents in Florida were getting ready, lining up for hours in Tampa to collect bags of sand and clearing store shelves of bottled water.

A hurricane watch was issued for Florida’s central western coast, including the Tampa Bay area, where Hillsborough County suspended classes until Friday to prepare schools to serve as shelters for evacuees.

Additional watches for more northern areas along the peninsula’s west coast may be issued, Mr Brown said.

Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency throughout Florida and urged residents to prepare for the storm to lash large swaths of the state with heavy rains, high winds and rising seas.

“We’re going to keep monitoring the track of this storm. But it really is important to stress the degree of uncertainty that still exists,” Mr DeSantis said at a press conference on Sunday, cautioning that “even if you’re not necessarily right in the eye of the path of the storm, there’s going to be pretty broad impacts throughout the state”.

Flash and urban flooding is possible in the Florida Keys and Florida peninsula midweek, and then heavy rainfall is possible for north Florida, the Florida panhandle and the south-east United States later this week.

The agency has advised Floridians to have hurricane plans in place and monitor updates of the storm’s evolving path.

US President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorising the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to co-ordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property.

The President postponed a scheduled September 27 trip to Florida because of the storm.

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