US: Tropical storm Ian strengthens into hurricane, heads toward Cuba, Florida

However, forecasters are still unsure of exactly where it could make landfall



Photos: AP
Photos: AP

By AP

Published: Mon 26 Sep 2022, 2:54 PM

Forecasters say tropical storm Ian has strengthened into a hurricane, as it moves closer to Cuba on a track expected to take it to Florida in the coming days.

Ian was forecast to intensify rapidly and become a major hurricane as soon as late Monday.

Authorities in Cuba suspended classes in the Pinar del Rio province, and said they would begin evacuations from Monday onwards as Ian was forecast to strengthen before reaching the western part of the island, on its way to Florida.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa. The US National Hurricane Center said that Ian should reach the far-western part of Cuba by late Monday or early Tuesday, hitting near the country’s most famed tobacco fields.

Photo: @NHC_Atlantic/Twitter
Photo: @NHC_Atlantic/Twitter

It could become a major hurricane before a likely landfall in Florida around the middle of the week — possibly the state’s western coast or Panhandle.

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

At 5am EDT on Monday, Ian was moving northwest at 20km/h, about 150km southwest of Grand Cayman, according to the centre. It had maximum sustained winds of 120km/h.

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

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

Forecasters are still unsure of exactly where Ian could make landfall, with current models plotting it toward Florida’s west coast or Panhandle regions, he said.

“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,” DeSantis said at a news 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 through midweek, and then heavy rainfall is possible for north Florida, the Florida Panhandle, and southeast United States later this week.

The agency placed a tropical storm watch over the lower Florida Keys on Sunday evening, and has advised Floridians to have hurricane plans in place and monitor updates of the storm’s evolving path.

President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorising the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate 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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John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based centre, also stated in an interview on Sunday that it was not clear where in Florida would Ian hit the hardest. Residents should begin preparations, including gathering supplies for potential power outages, he said.

“It’s a hard thing to say 'stay tuned', but that’s the right message right now,” Cangialosi said.

“For those in Florida, it’s still time to prepare. I’m not telling you to put up your shutters yet or do anything like that, but it’s still time to get your supplies.”

Local media in Florida have reported a consumer rush on water, generators and other supplies in some areas where residents moved to stock up on goods ahead of the storm.


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