Hurricane Ian made landfall on Florida’s southwestern coast as a monster Category 4 storm on Wednesday with high winds and torrential rain that threaten to cause “catastrophic” flooding and damage.
The National Hurricane Center said the eye of the “extremely dangerous” hurricane slammed into the barrier island of Cayo Costa, west of the city of Fort Myers, at 3:05 p.m. (1905 GMT).
Dramatic television footage showed churning water submerging roads and sweeping away cars as the hurricane lashed the coastal city of Naples, south of Fort Myers.
The NHC said Ian had maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (240 kilometers per hour) when it made landfall and was already “causing catastrophic storm surge, wind and flooding in the Florida panhandle.”
Ian is expected to affect several million people in Florida and the southeastern states of Georgia and South Carolina and may have already claimed its first victims.
The US Border Patrol said 20 migrants were missing after their boat sank. Four surviving Cubans swam to shore in the Florida Keys and three were rescued at sea by the coast guard.
As hurricane conditions spread, forecasters warned of a once-in-a-generation calamity looming.
“This is going to be a storm we’ll be talking about for years to come,” National Weather Service Director Ken Graham said. “It’s a historical fact.”
Punta Gorda, north of Fort Myers, was being lashed by torrential rains and streets were emptying as howling winds stripped palm fronds and rattled power poles.
Some 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders in a dozen coastal Florida counties, with several dozen shelters in place and voluntary evacuation recommended in others.
For those who decided to ride out the storm, authorities stressed that it was too late to flee and that residents should shelter in place.
Packing 150 mph winds at landfall, Ian is just seven mph away from Category 5 intensity, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
Tampa and Orlando airports stopped all commercial flights and 850,000 homes were already without power.
But that was “a drop in the bucket” compared to the outages expected over the next 48 hours, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
“This is going to be a nasty, nasty day, two days,” he added.
Up to two feet (61 centimeters) of rain is expected to fall in parts of the so-called Sunshine State, and a storm surge that could reach devastating levels of 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 meters) above ground, Authorities warned of dire emergency conditions.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” the NHC warned.
The storm was scheduled to move across central Florida before emerging into the Atlantic Ocean Thursday night.
‘There is nothing left here’
Ian a day earlier had plunged all of Cuba into darkness after hitting the west of the country as a Category 3 storm and bringing down the island’s power grid.
“Desolation and destruction. These are terrifying 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 son, journalist Lázaro Manuel Alonso.
At least two people died in the province of Pinar del Río, Cuban state media reported.
In the United States, the Pentagon said 3,200 National Guard members have been called up in Florida and another 1,800 are on their way.
DeSantis said state and federal first responders were assigning thousands of people to tackle storm response.
“There are going to be thousands of Floridians who are going to need help to rebuild,” he said.
As climate change warms the ocean surface, the number of powerful tropical storms, or cyclones, with stronger winds and more precipitation is likely to increase.
The total number of cyclones, however, may not be.
According to Gary Lackmann, a professor of atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State University, studies have also found a potential link between climate change and rapid intensification, when a relatively weak tropical storm becomes a Category 3 or higher hurricane. in a 24 hour period. period, as happened with Ian.
“The consensus remains that there will be fewer storms, but the stronger ones will be stronger,” Lackmann told AFP.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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