Hurricane Ian threatened to cause “catastrophic” damage and flooding with powerful winds and torrential rain on Wednesday as a monster Category 4 hurricane off the southwest coast of Florida.
The National Hurricane Center said an “extremely dangerous” storm was observed at 3.05 p.m. (1905 GMT) on the barrier island of Cayo Costa, west of the city of Fort Myers.
Dramatic television footage showed submerged streets churning and cars swaying as the storm pounded the coastal city of Naples south of Fort Myers.
NHC said Ian was packing maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (240 kph) when it made landfall and was already “causing devastating storms, winds and flooding across the Florida Peninsula.”
Ian is expected to affect several million people throughout Florida and the southeastern states of Georgia and South Carolina and may have already claimed its first casualties.
The US Border Patrol said 20 migrants were missing after the boat sank. Four Cubans who survived a swim in the Florida Keys and three were rescued by the Coast Guard at sea.
As hurricane conditions spread, forecasters warned of a once-in-a-generation disaster.
“It’s going to be a hurricane that we’ll be talking about for many years to come,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service. “This is a historic event.”
Punta Gorda, north of Fort Myers, was pounding by torrential rains and roads were evacuated as strong winds ripped palm trees from the bay and swayed electric poles.
About 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders in a dozen coastal Florida counties, with several dozen shelters set up, and voluntary evacuations recommended in others.
For those who decided to pull out of the storm, officials insisted it was too late to escape and that residents should bow down and stay indoors.
With winds gusts of 150 mph, Ian is just seven mph above a Category 5 intensity—the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
The airports in Tampa and Orlando stopped all commercial flights and 850,000 homes already had no electricity.
But it was a “drop in the bucket” compared to the expected outage over the next 48 hours, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.
“It’s going to be a bad, bad day, day two,” he said.
Two feet (61 centimeters) of rain are expected in parts of the so-called Sunshine State, and a storm surge that can reach devastating levels 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 meters) above ground, officials were warning. from serious emergencies.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” warned the NHC.
The storm was set to move into central Florida before emerging in the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday.
‘There’s nothing left here’
Ian plunged all of Cuba into darkness a day earlier after battering the west of the country as a Category 3 hurricane and knocking down the island’s power network.
“Destruction and destruction. These are terrible hours. There is nothing left here,” a 70-year-old resident of the western city of Pinar del Río said in a social media post by his journalist son, Lazaro Manuel Alonso.
Cuban state media reported that at least two people were killed in Pinar del Río province.
In the United States, the Pentagon said 3,200 National Guards had been called to Florida, and another 1,800 were on the way.
DeSantis said state and federal responders were hiring thousands of personnel to address the hurricane response.
“There will be thousands of Floridians who will need help rebuilding,” he said.
As climate change warms the ocean surface, the number of powerful tropical storms or cyclones with stronger winds and more rainfall is likely to increase.
However, the total number of cyclones may not be there.
According to Gary Lackman, a professor of atmospheric science at North Carolina State University, studies have also detected a possible link between climate change and rapid intensification – when a relatively weak tropical storm becomes a Category 3 hurricane or greater in 24 hours. Is. Period, as happened with Ian.
“There remains a general consensus that there will be fewer storms, but the strongest will be stronger,” Lackman told AFP.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)