Heavy winds and rain pummelled Florida on Wednesday as Hurricane Ian intensified to just shy of the strongest Category 5 level, threatening to wreak “catastrophic” destruction on the southern US state.
Forecasters warned of a looming once-in-a-generation calamity, with life-threatening storm surges, extensive flooding and devastating winds promising what Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called a “nasty” natural disaster.
Some 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders in a dozen coastal Florida counties, with voluntary evacuation recommended in several others.
“Ian has strengthened into an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane,” the NHC said, warning of “catastrophic storm surge, winds, and flooding.”
“This is going to be a nasty, nasty day, two days,” DeSantis said.
With rapidly deteriorating conditions, some thrill-seekers were seen walking in the mud flats of Tampa Bay and in Charlotte Harbor, further south, ahead of Ian’s arrival.
With up to two feet (61 centimeters) of rain expected to fall on parts of the so-called Sunshine State, and a storm surge that could reach devastating levels of 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 meters) above ground, authorities were warning of dire emergency conditions.
– Widespread blackout –
The storm damaged Cuba’s power network and left the island “without electrical service,” state electricity company Union Electrica said.
Others had to make do with flashlights or candles at home, and lit their way with cell phones as they walked the streets.
At least two people died in Pinar del Rio province, Cuban state media reported.
In the United States, the Pentagon said 3,200 national guardsmen had been called up in Florida, with another 1,800 on the way.
National Weather Service director Ken Graham echoed concerns about what lies ahead, expressing certainty Ian will leave a trail of destruction.
As climate change warms the ocean’s surface, the number of powerful tropical storms, or cyclones, with stronger winds and more precipitation is likely to increase.
According to Gary Lackmann, a professor of atmospheric science at North Carolina State University, studies have also detected a “potential link” between climate change and what is known as rapid intensification — when a relatively weak tropical storm surges to a Category 3 hurricane or higher in a 24-hour period, as happened with Ian.
Originally published as Monster Hurricane Ian Hammers Florida