August 29, 2023 –Florida’s governor has warned residents in the path of Hurricane Idalia to heed evacuation warnings without delay as it approaches the US state.
Ron DeSantis said Idalia would hit the state’s Gulf coast as a Category 3 storm on Wednesday morning.
Much of Florida, including the densely populated Tampa area, is forecast to be affected by severe weather.
Idalia is projected to hit an area that Mr DeSantis said has not seen such a major hurricane since the 1800s.
High winds, up to 12in (30cm) of rain and potentially deadly storm surges as high as 15ft (4.5m) are forecast in some areas.
At 11:00 local time on Tuesday (15:00 GMT), Idalia was 275 miles (440km) south-south-west of Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) most recent update.
Idalia is forecast to reach wind speeds of 125mph (201 km/h) before coming ashore north of Tampa at around 08:00 local time on Wednesday.
Mr DeSantis told a news conference at the state’s emergency operations centre that residents still have time to evacuate.
“But you got to do that now,” he said.
Twenty-five of Florida’s 67 counties were under some form of evacuation order as of lunchtime on Tuesday, including 14 mandatory orders.
Along evacuation routes, tolls were being waived and some 420,000 gallons of fuel was ready to be deployed at petrol stations, said Mr DeSantis.
The governor added: “Those coastal areas there have not necessarily been through this before.”
According to the NHC, no major hurricane has tracked into Apalachee Bay in north-western Florida since 1851.
“This has the makings of an unprecedented event for this part of the state,” said the NHC in a bulletin.
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Tampa International Airport closed on Tuesday, and is expected to remain shut until Thursday morning.
Florida has mobilised more than 5,500 National Guardsmen and up to 40,000 linemen are on standby to tackle power cuts.
Last year, Hurricane Ian made landfall in south-western Florida, wreaking more than $100bn (£79bn) in damage and killing over 100 people.
“There’s going to be destruction of houses and homes and structures,” said David DeCarlo, director of Hernando County Emergency Management.
“This is going to be life-impacting storm surge.”
On Monday Idalia swiped the western shore of Cuba, where tens of thousands evacuated ahead of flooding and high winds.
Residents battened down homes and secured fishing boats, while brown floodwaters had swamped the small fishing village of Guanimar, south of Havana, by mid-afternoon.
“We’ve had two days of rain already,” Yadira Alvarez, 34, told Reuters on Monday. She said storm water had already swelled to knee-height inside her home.
The US states of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina could see heavy rainfall as well, forecasters said.
Far to the east of Idalia, Hurricane Franklin, the first major hurricane of the season, could bring storm surges to the US East Coast and Bermuda. As of Tuesday afternoon local time, the eye of Franklin was just west of Bermuda, moving north-east at a maximum speed of 130mph (209 km/h). Its current path avoids any major land mass, with the storm moving to the east of North America.
The impact of climate change on the frequency of tropical storms is still unclear, but increased sea surface temperatures warm the air above and make more energy available to drive hurricanes.
As a result, they are likely to be more intense with more extreme rainfall.