Ian strikes Cuba, Fla. braces for impact

  • Eastbound traffic crowds Interstate 4 as people evacuate in preparation for Hurricane Ian approaches the western side of the state, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Lake Alfred, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) Phelan M. Ebenhack

  • Visitors to the Southernmost Point buoy brave the high waves from Hurricane Ian crash for photos, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Key West, Fla. Ian was forecast to strengthen even more over warm Gulf of Mexico waters, reaching top winds of 140 mph (225 kmh) as it approaches the Florida's southwest coast. (AP Photo/Mary Martin) Mary Martin

  • FILE - Lisa Bromfield and Mike Sernett work to place a sheet of plywood on the front windows of a store in downtown Gulfport in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Ian, Sept. 26, 2022, in South Pasadena, Fla. Hurricane Ian is quickly gaining monstrous strength as it moves over oceans partly heated up by climate change. (Martha Asencio-Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via AP, File) MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE

  • Canceled flights are shown on a video board at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter at the Tampa International Airport Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. The airport is closing at 5pm EST today ahead of a planned landfall by Hurricane Ian. Ian is predicted to make landfall somewhere along Florida's west coast. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) Chris O'Meara

  • Visitors to the Southernmost Point buoy brave the high waves from Hurricane Ian crash for photos, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Key West, Fla. Ian was forecast to strengthen even more over warm Gulf of Mexico waters, reaching top winds of 140 mph (225 kmh) as it approaches the Florida’s southwest coast. (Rob O'Neal/The Key West Citizen via AP) rob oneal 305 942~1299

  • Fallen utility poles and fallen branches line a street after Hurricane Ian hit Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up shelters, evacuated people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in the nation’s main tobacco-growing region. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) Ramon Espinosa

  • Traffic builds along Interstate 4 in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, as Hurricane Ian approaches. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel via AP) Willie J. Allen Jr.

  • A Delta Airlines Boeing 757 pushes back from the gate at the Tampa International Airport Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. The airport is closing at 5pm today ahead of a potential landfall by Hurricane Ian. Ian is predicted to hit somewhere along Florida's west coast. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) Chris O'Meara

  • A man, along with his Macaw and cat, prepares his sailboat on the Davis Islands yacht basin ahead of the potential arrival of Hurricane Ian Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. Ian is predicted to make landfall somewhere along Florida's west coast. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) Chris O'Meara

  • A man walks his dog during a break of heavy rain, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Miami Beach, Fla. Hurricane Ian is expected to make landfall on the west coast of Florida. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier) Marta Lavandier

  • A kite surfer flies in the air as they take advantage of strong winds caused by Hurricane Ian, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at Matheson Hammock Park in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) Rebecca Blackwell

  • Crews clear fallen trees bought down by the winds of Hurricane Ian, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, September 27, 2022. Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up shelters, evacuated people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in the nation's main tobacco-growing region. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco) Ismael Francisco

  • A vehicle weaves through fallen trees bought down by the winds of Hurricane Ian, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up shelters, evacuated people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in the nation's main tobacco-growing region. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco) Ismael Francisco

  • A man leans over next to an oveturned box filled with a fishing line, after Hurricane Ian's storm surge flooded the area in Playa Cajio, Artemisa, Cuba, Tuesday, September 27, 2022. Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up shelters, evacuated people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in the nation's main tobacco-growing region. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco) Ismael Francisco

  • A man stands on the doorframe of his home after Hurricane Ian's storm surge flooded the area in Boca de Cajio, Artemisa, Cuba, Tuesday, September 27, 2022. Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up shelters, evacuated people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in the nation's main tobacco-growing region. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco) Ismael Francisco

  • Kite surfers take advantage of strong winds caused by distant Hurricane Ian, at Matheson Hammock Park in Coral Gables, Fla. Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Miami's skyline is seen in the background. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) Rebecca Blackwell

  • Kite surfers glide across the water as they take advantage of strong winds caused by Hurricane Ian, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at Matheson Hammock Park in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) Rebecca Blackwell

  • A man flies high with the Miami skyline in the background, as kite surfers take advantage of strong winds caused by distant Hurricane Ian, at Matheson Hammock Park in Coral Gables, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) Rebecca Blackwell

  • Mercedes Valdez holds her dog, Kira, as she waits for transportation after losing her home to Hurricane Ian in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday. AP PHOTO

Published: 9/27/2022 8:33:56 PM
Modified: 9/27/2022 8:33:03 PM

HAVANA — Hurricane Ian tore into western Cuba as a major hurricane Tuesday and left 1 million people without electricity, then churned on a collision course with Florida over warm Gulf waters amid expectations it would strengthen into a catastrophic Category 4 storm.

Ian made landfall in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people, and took steps to protect crops in the nation’s main tobacco-growing region. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” when the hurricane struck with top sustained winds of 125 mph.

Ian was expected to get even stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico, reaching top winds of 130 mph approaching the southwest coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.

Tropical storm-force winds were expected across the southern peninsula late Tuesday, reaching hurricane-force Wednesday — when the eye was predicted to make landfall. With tropical storm-force winds extending 140 miles from Ian’s center, damage was expected across a wide area of Florida.

It was not yet clear precisely where Ian would crash ashore. Its exact track could determine how severe the storm surge is for Tampa Bay, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. Landfall south of the bay could make the impact “much less bad,” McNoldy said.

Gil Gonzalez boarded up his windows Tuesday and had sandbags ready to protect his Tampa home. He and his wife had stocked up on bottled water and packed flashlights, battery packs for their cellphones and a camp stove before evacuating.

“All the prized possessions, we’ve put them upstairs in a friend’s house and nearby, and we’ve got the car loaded,” Gonzalez said on his way out. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged people to prepare for extended power outages, and to get out of the storm’s potential path.

“It is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in,” DeSantis told a news conference in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 that could be hit. “And you’re going to end up with really significant storm surge and you’re going to end up with really significant flood events. And this is the kind of storm surge that is life threatening.”

He said about 30,000 utility works have already been positioned around the state but it might take days before they can safely reach some of the downed power lines.

“This thing’s the real deal,” DeSantis said. “It is a major, major storm.”

DeSantis said nearly 100 shelters had been opened by Tuesday afternoon, with more expected. He said most buildings in Florida are strong enough to withstand wind, but the 2.5 million people who have been told to evacuate face the greatest danger from flooding.

Hundreds of residents were being evacuated from several nursing homes in the Tampa area, where hospitals were also moving some patients. Airports in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Key West closed. Busch Gardens in Tampa closed ahead of the storm, while several Orlando-area theme parks, including Disney World and Sea World, planned to close Wednesday and Thursday.

NASA rolled its moon rocket from the launch pad to its Kennedy Space Center hangar, adding weeks of delay to the test flight.

Ian’s forward movement was expected to slow over the Gulf, enabling the hurricane to grow wider and stronger. The hurricane warning expanded Tuesday to cover roughly 220 miles of Florida’s west coast. The area includes Fort Myers as well as Tampa and St. Petersburg, which could get their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

Forecasters said the storm surge could reach 12 feet if it peaks at high tide. Rainfall near the area of landfall could top 18 inches.

“It’s a monster and then there’s the confusion of the path,” said Renee Correa, who headed inland to Orlando from the Tampa area with her daughter and Chihuahua. “Tampa has been lucky for 100 years, but it’s a little scary now.”

Kelly Johnson was preparing to hunker down at her home two blocks from the beach in Dunedin, west of Tampa. She said she would escape to the second floor if sea water surges inland, and had a generator if power goes out.

“I’m a Floridian, and we know how to deal with hurricanes,” Johnson said. “This is part of living in paradise — knowing that once in a while these storms come at you.”

Forecasters warned the hurricane will be felt across a large area as it plows across Florida with an anticipated turn northward. Flash floods were possible across the whole state, and portions of Florida’s east coast faced a potential storm surge threat as Ian’s bands approach the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of Georgia and South Carolina also could see flooding rains into the weekend.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp pre-emptively declared a state of emergency Tuesday, ordering 500 National Guard troops on standby to respond as needed.

As the storm’s center moved into the Gulf, scenes of destruction emerged in Cuba’s world-famous tobacco belt. The owner of the premier Finca Robaina cigar producer posted photos on social media of wood-and-thatch roofs smashed to the ground, greenhouses in rubble and wagons overturned.

“It was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” wrote Hirochi Robaina, grandson of the operation’s founder.

Local government station TelePinar reported heavy damage at the main hospital in Pinar del Rio city, tweeting photos of collapsed ceilings and toppled trees. No deaths were reported.

At the White House, President Joe Biden said his administration was sending hundreds of Federal Emergency Management Agency employees to Florida and sought to assure mayors in the storm’s path that Washington will meet their needs. He urged residents to heed to local officials’ orders.

“Your safety is more important than anything,” he said.


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