Hurricane Ian intensifies in Caribbean, heads for Florida


(NewsNation) — Hurricane Ian moved towards the Cayman Islands and Cuba Monday morning on a track to hit Florida as a major hurricane later this week, according to the National Hurricane Center (NOAA).

The storm is set to hit Cuba as a major hurricane later Monday, bringing life-threatening winds and storm surges to the island nd then become an even stronger Category 4 hurricane over warm Gulf of Mexico waters before striking the west central coast of Florida on Wednesday. The storm is likely to hit Florida’s western coast or the Panhandle.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa.

Cuba state media outlet Granma said authorities would begin evacuating people from vulnerable areas early Monday in the far-western province of Pinar del Rio. Classes there have been suspended.

At 11 a.m. EDT on Monday, Ian was moving northwest at 13 mph, about 240 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba, with top, sustained winds increasing to 80 mph.

Meanwhile, residents in Florida were keeping a cautious eye on Ian as it rumbled ominously through the Caribbean on a path toward the state.

Forecasters predict that Ian will likely become a strong Category 4 hurricane before reaching Florida’s west coast.

Floridians are preparing for Hurricane Ian’s impact, filling sandbags and emptying store shelves. Gas stations are seeing longer lines than usual as residents fill their cars and gas cans for home generators.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida on Saturday, freeing up resources for all residents. He also urged residents to be ready for a storm that could lash large swaths of the state with heavy rains, high winds and rising seas.

“We encourage all Floridians to make their preparations,” DeSantis said in a statement.

Clearwater, Florida, Mayor Frank Hibbard told NewsNation that the city is asking residents for voluntary evacuations Monday, and will most likely start mandatory evacuations on Tuesday for the city’s low-lying areas.

Hibbard said that school is in session Monday, but the city will close schools Tuesday through Thursday. He said the best way for residents to keep updated is to watch for emails and check the city’s website for the most recent updates.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor was also preparing her city for the impact of the storm.

“No doubt we’re going to feel the effects. Just how severe the effects are remain to be seen. So what we are asking is everyone to be prepared,” Castor said.

Hillsborough County, Florida, officials announced a mandatory evacuation for Evacuation Zone A and a voluntary evacuation for Evacuation Zone B on Monday, the City of Tampa wrote on Twitter.

“Please treat this storm seriously. It’s the real deal. This is not a drill,” Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director Timothy Dudley said at a Monday news conference on storm preparations in Tampa.

President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property.

The president postponed a scheduled Sept. 27 trip to Florida due to the storm and NASA decided to forgo a planned Tuesday launch opportunity for its new moon rocket.

The National Hurricane Center said Ian was expected to strengthen before moving over western Cuba and toward the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of the week.

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

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Sunday ordered the activation of the State Operations Center for Monday, to prepare for any potential impact from Hurricane Ian later in the week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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