Florida’s Gulf Coast is preparing for a major hurricane as Idalia makes landfall


Written by María Alejandra Cardona and Marco Bello

STEINHACHEEE, Fla. (Reuters) – Florida’s Gulf Coast braced on Wednesday for gusty winds, torrential rain and rising sea levels from Adalia, which is expected to become an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane, as it heads toward a direct hit in Big Bend, California. the state. .

Idalia’s rage intensified steadily on Tuesday, drawing power from the warm, open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, while millions of people in the storm’s path tied up boats, shut windows, sandbagged their belongings and headed for higher ground.

Mandatory evacuation orders were in place in at least 28 of Florida’s 67 counties as of Tuesday night.

“If you are not evacuated, you must do so immediately,” Florida Emergency Management Chief Kevin Guthrie said during an evening news conference. “You have to quit what you’re doing. You have to go to your room, pack your things, pack your things, and get to safety.”

Most of Florida’s 21 million residents, and many residents of neighboring states Georgia and South Carolina, were under hurricane and storm warnings. State emergency declarations have been issued in all three.

“They’re expecting some deaths, so I don’t want to be one of them,” said Renee Hoffman, 62, as she prepared to leave her home in Stainhaci, Florida, located in the expected land area. She owns a food stand that she has strapped to her husband’s pickup truck to keep it from washing out or getting soggy.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Tuesday night that Idalia is expected to reach “very dangerous Category 4 intensity” on the five-magnitude Saffir-Simpson wind scale by the time it makes landfall in Florida on Wednesday morning.

In the latest report from the hurricane center, Adalia had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (177 kph), at the upper end of a Category 2, as it was heading inshore 120 miles (193 km) southwest of Cedar Key, fl. . Any storm that reaches Category 3 or higher is considered a major hurricane.

Florida’s Gulf Coast, southeastern Georgia, and eastern parts of North and South Carolina could experience 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) of rain through Thursday, with isolated areas seeing up to 1 foot (30 cm) of rain, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tornadoes. to caution.

The most dangerous feature of the storm, officials said, will be a strong wind-driven swell that is expected to swamp barrier islands and other low-lying areas along the coast.

Hurricane surge warnings were posted for hundreds of miles of coastline, from Sarasota to the sport fishing haven of Indian Pass at the western end of Apalachicola Bay. The National Hurricane Center said that in some areas, depending on the tides, the water could rise 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 meters).

“The number one killer in all of these storms is water,” Dean Creswell, FEMA Administrator, told CNN.

The National Hurricane Center said the center of Idealia will likely cross Florida’s shoreline somewhere in Big Bend, where the state’s northern Gulf coast curves into the western side of the Florida Peninsula, and is roughly bordered by the inland cities of Gainesville and Tallahassee, the state capital.

Sparsely populated compared to Tampa-St. To the south lies the Big Bend area of ​​St. Petersburg, and features a swampy coastline dotted with freshwater springs and rivers, and a group of small offshore islands that make up Cedar Key, a historic fishing village destroyed in 1896 by a hurricane storm.

At the White House, US President Biden said Tuesday that he and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Biden in the 2024 presidential election, are “in constant contact” about preparations for the storm.

Turbulence linked to Idalia has spread to Florida’s Atlantic coast at Cape Canaveral, where a launch of a rocket carrying a US Space Force intelligence satellite has been indefinitely delayed.

Hurricane Idalia transformed from a tropical storm into a hurricane early Tuesday, a day after it passed western Cuba, damaging homes, knocking out power, inundating villages and prompting mass evacuations.

It is the fourth major hurricane to hit Florida in the past seven years, after Irma in 2017, Michael in 2018, and Ian, which peaked at Category 5 status, last September.

More than 40 Florida school districts have canceled classes, DeSantis said, and Tampa International Airport suspended commercial operations on Tuesday.

About 5,500 National Guard personnel were mobilized, while 30,000 to 40,000 electricians were on standby. The governor said the state has set aside 1.1 million gallons of gasoline to address any disruption to the fuel supply.

And in Sarasota, a city hit hard by Hurricane Ian last year, Milton Bontrager, 40, who runs a fishing service near Tampa, said his house was enclosed and stocked with food, water and a generator, and his boats were safe.

“I’m not panicking, I’m preparing,” he said on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by María Alejandra Cardona in Stenhaci, FL, Marco Bello in Cedar Key, FL, Joey Roulette in Tampa, FL, Rich Mackay in Atlanta, Nelson Acosta in Havana, Dave Sherwood in Guanmar, Cuba, Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado ) Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Nandita Bose in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jerry Doyle)

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