HURRICANE Idalia has continued to strengthen and is expected to be a Category 4 storm when it makes landfall in Florida on Wednesday.
Officials in Florida have warned residents in high-risk areas to evacuate their homes as the storm rapidly moves north through the Gulf of Mexico, increasing in speed and intensity.
Meteorologists predict that the storm will grow into a Category 4 hurricane by the time it strikes Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“Idalia still strengthening,” the National Weather Service said in its 11pm update on Tuesday.
“Forecast to be an extremely dangerous Category 4 intensity at landfall.”
The hurricane is expected to become a “major hurricane” in the next few hours and bring 125mph winds to the state as it reaches the coast.
Idalia is forecast to remain at hurricane strength when it moves across southern Georgia after landfall.
Experts have warned about the storm surge, calling it one of the biggest risks.
The threat of floods is heightened due to higher tides brought on by a rare blue supermoon slated for Wednesday, the same day the hurricane will make landfall.
The surge is expected to be around 12 to 16 feet above its normal levels in some areas.
The hurricane is expected to hit the area between Gainesville and Tallahassee and has already left its mark on Cuba, where it struck the western part of the island.
Reports claim that as much as 4inches of rain fell over the island on Sunday.
In Pinar del Río, the island nation’s westernmost province, about 60percent of the population was without electricity, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents of his state that the effects of the storm could be catastrophic.
“This is going to be a major hurricane,” he said.
“It’s likely to continue strengthening all the way until impact and it could have catastrophic storm surge in your area.”
DeSantis said the state hasn’t seen a storm this strong since the 1800s at a press conference on Tuesday, Sky News reported.
“We’ve not really had a hurricane strike this area for a long, long time,” he said.
As many as 14million people could be at risk, but DeSantis said most people have evacuated the areas that will likely be hit hardest.
He declared a a state of emergency in 46 counties.
The governor also shared that all of Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue teams are prepared ahead of the hurricane’s arrival.
“We hope to not have to need those folks. We hope nobody ends up in distress once the storm hits,” DeSantis said.
“But if there is, we’re going to have folks that are going to go out there.”
So far, 23 counties have issued mandatory evacuation orders for their residents, particularly those located in coastal cities, per NBC.
“Evacuation orders, I urge Floridians to heed the admonitions and heed the directives from your officials,” said DeSantis.
“There are going to be evacuations issued in all of these Gulf Coast counties in the A and B zones.
“All the barrier islands, places that are low-lying on the coast. You are going to be told to evacuate.”
The governor encouraged people to leave as soon as possible.
“Now is the time. If you stay hunkered down tonight, it’s going to be too nasty to do it,” he said.
“If you choose to stay in an evacuation zone, first responders aren’t going to be able to get to you until after the storm has passed.”
In Gainesville, an inland city about 130 miles north of Tampa, authorities enacted mandatory evacuations for some residents on Tuesday night.
“Mandatory Mobile Home Evacuation for those living in mobile or manufactured homes, sub-standard housing and those in flood-prone areas,” the Gainesville Police Department said in a tweet.
The streets were already flooding on Tuesday in Key West, a remote barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico.
“High tide and wave action mean flooded streets in many parts of the island,” city officials said in a Facebook post with a video of the flooding.
“Please avoid waking nearby residence and businesses.”
Officials in Franklin County, about 70 miles south of Tallahassee, have announced rescues on two barrier islands may be impossible if a key roadway is blocked by the storm.
“St. George Island and Alligator Point, you have only one access route in and out,” Franklin County Florida Emergency Management said in a Facebook post.
“If this route is compromised or closed, EMS or Responders will not be able to assist you.
“If you have life threatening medical conditions, please make arrangements now. Don’t Wait. Evacuate.”
Others Gainesville residents are preparing to ride out the storm.
“It’ll be a lot of trees maybe falling, debris, but I don’t feel like it will tear up Gainesville,” Elonda Mcnish, 34, told NBC.
Natasha Kelly, also 34, told the outlet hurricane damage isn’t normally a big problem in that part of the state.
But she’s still taking precautions as she rides out the storm.
“I normally don’t panic at all, (but) this one with the storm surge and everything feels like maybe it’s prudent to block off the doors because I’m on the ground level,” Kelly said.
Hotel operators across Florida have waived their no-pet policies and ahead of the storm, WFTV reported.
DeSantis revealed that over 250 Starlink devices have been sent to the areas that are predicted to be affected.
Starlink devices are made by SpaceX and provide internet connectivity.
Governors from other states have sent resources to Florida ahead of the storm.
“Texas has deployed resources and personnel to Florida ahead of Hurricane Idalia to support our fellow Americans,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a tweet.
“America is stronger when we come together in times of crisis.”
Pennsylvania’s Governor Josh Shapiro has sent resources, as well.
“Our Commonwealth is ready to help any state get back on their feet in response to this dangerous storm,” he said in a tweet.
The storm is also causing air travel delays ahead of a busy Labor Day Weekend.
Several airlines includes including Delta, United, and Southwest are issuing vouchers to anyone scheduled to travel to certain parts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina through Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported.