Miami– Idalia became a hurricane on Tuesday as it intensified toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, and the National Hurricane Center warned of a growing risk of life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds in Florida over the next two days.
Heavy rainfall in western Cuba could trigger flooding and landslides, with hurricane-force winds expected later Monday, forecasters said.
Forecasters said they expected Idalia to become a dangerously large hurricane in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico by early Wednesday.
Idalia is expected to turn north-northeast on Tuesday and Wednesday, moving faster. The center is expected to cross the southernmost point of the Gulf of Mexico early Tuesday and reach Florida’s west coast on Wednesday.
Florida residents sandbagged and evacuated their homes from low-lying Gulf Coast areas as Tropical Storm Idalia intensified Monday as forecasters predicted it would become a major hurricane within days with potentially life-threatening storm surge .
“You should be done preparing for #TropicalStormIdalia by tonight and Tuesday morning at the latest,” the National Weather Service in Tampa Bay said on X (formerly known as Twitter) Monday.
Just as the government prepared, Idalia brought heavy rains to Cuba, especially in the far west of the island, where the tobacco-producing province of Pinar del Río was still recovering from damage caused by Hurricane Ian nearly a year ago. recover from damage.
Authorities in the province issued a state of alert, residents were evacuated to the homes of friends and relatives, and authorities were monitoring the Cuyaguatee River for possible flooding. Cuba received up to 10 centimeters (4 inches) of rain on Sunday, weather stations reported.
Idalia is expected to begin affecting Florida as a hurricane as early as Tuesday night and reach the coast by Wednesday. It was the first storm to hit Florida this hurricane season and could deal a major blow to the state, which is also dealing with lingering damage from last year’s Hurricane Ian.
Idalia is also the latest in a summer of natural disasters, including wildfires in Hawaii, Canada and Greece; the first tropical storm in 84 years to hit California and devastating floods in Vermont.
“Have to be prepared for these things, hope for the best, prepare for the worst, you know, as they say, hunker down,” said Derek Hughes as he waited in a city park in New York City for his car to be outfitted. Sandbag said. tampa.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 46 counties that stretch across the northern half of the state from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic coast. The state has mobilized 1,100 National Guard members, 2,400 high-water vehicles and 12 aircraft for rescue and recovery efforts.
Tampa International Airport and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport said they would be closed Tuesday, and Sunrail commuter rail service in Orlando was also suspended.
DeSantis warned that Idalia could become a Category 3 hurricane with “significant impacts” on the state.
“We can rebuild someone’s house,” DeSantis said at a news conference Monday. “But you can’t sound the alarm if someone is at risk and fighting against Mother Nature.”
DeSantis said the Florida Department of Transportation will waive highway tolls in the Tampa area and at the Big Bend starting at 4 a.m. Tuesday to help ease the burden on people in the storm’s path.
Much of Florida’s west coast is under threat of storm surge and flooding. Evacuation notices have been issued in 21 counties and mandatory orders have been issued for some people in eight of them. Many of the notices are for people in low-lying and coastal areas, people living in structures such as mobile homes, mobile homes, recreational vehicles and boats, and people who are vulnerable during a power outage.
Both Pasco and Levy counties, north of Tampa, ordered mandatory evacuations of some residents. Levy County officials said residents of Cedar Island had until Tuesday night to leave the island because storm surge would render bridges impassable.
“Once a storm surge hits, you may not be able to get help,” the county said in a public advisory.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a hurricane warning on Monday ranging from Longboat Key in the Sarasota area to the Holocene River in Tampa Bay.
Many school districts along the Gulf Coast said they would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Several colleges and universities said they would close their campuses Tuesday, including the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“They told us that our halls of residence are particularly prone to flooding,” said Irene Amis, a student at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.
MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Bay is preparing to evacuate several aircraft and a mandatory evacuation of the local county began Monday morning, the Air Force said in a statement.
Tampa resident Grace Cruz, who has lived in the state for more than 40 years, put away patio furniture, filled her car with gas and packed sandbags. She worries about the tens of thousands of new Florida residents who have never experienced a hurricane, and offers some advice for them.
“If you’re going to leave, you’re leaving early because of the traffic,” Cruz said. “No kidding. It’s horrible.”
As Gulf Coast residents packed up their cars or pulled out their generators in case of a power outage, state officials warned of possible fuel contamination at dozens of gas stations.
President Joe Biden spoke with DeSantis on Monday morning and told Florida’s governor that he had approved the state’s emergency declaration, the White House said in a news release. DeSantis is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Southwest Florida is still recovering from Hurricane Ian, which killed nearly 150 people last year. The Category 5 hurricane damaged 52,000 structures, of which nearly 20,000 were destroyed or severely damaged.
Tropical Storm Idalia was about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the tip of Cuba at 11 p.m. EDT Monday, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph), the hurricane center said. Adalia was heading north at 8 mph (13 km/h). On Tuesday, it was expected to turn more rapidly to the northeast and reach Florida’s west coast on Wednesday as a dangerously large hurricane.
After passing through Florida, Idalia is expected to blow over Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
The U.S. East Coast has not been hit by a hurricane so far this year. But in the west earlier this month, Tropical Storm Hillary caused widespread flooding, mudslides and road closures in Mexico, California, Nevada and northern regions.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said the 2023 hurricane season will be busier than initially predicted, in part due to extremely warm ocean temperatures. The season runs until November 30th, with August and September usually being the peak months.
Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland; Christiana Mesquita in Havana; Mike Schneider in St. Louis, Missouri; Washington Bay Lisa Baumann of Lingham contributed to this report.