Florida residents piled up sandbags and evacuated low-lying homes along the Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Idalia intensified Monday, with forecasters predicting it could make landfall within days as a Category 3 or major hurricane.
Meanwhile, Italia lashed Cuba with heavy rains, particularly on the western tip of the island, in the tobacco-producing province of Pinar del Rio, which has yet to fully recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Ian nearly a year ago.
Provincial authorities issued a state of alert, and people took shelter in the homes of relatives and friends, while officials monitored the level of the Kyakudeje River. According to weather stations, the island recorded 10 centimeters (4 inches) of rain on Sunday.
At 5 p.m. ET in the United States, Italia was located about 60 kilometers (35 miles) off the western tip of Cuba, with maximum sustained winds of 110 km/h (70 mph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The meteor was moving in a northerly direction at a speed of 13 km/h (8 mph).
Hurricane-force winds from Italy are expected to hit the Florida coast Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday. It will be the first storm to hit the state this hurricane season and could be a blow to the state, which is still dealing with the damage Ian left behind.
“You’ve got to be prepared for these things, hope for the best and prepare for the worst, you know, take cover,” Derek Hughes said as he waited to load sandbags into his vehicle at a Tampa city park.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 46 counties in the northern part of the state, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic coast. The agency has deployed 1,100 elements of the National Guard, along with 2,400 elevated vehicles and 12 aircraft for rescue and recovery operations.
Tampa International Airport and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport will be closed Tuesday, and SunRail said it will suspend passenger train service to Orlando.
DeSantis warned the agency of “major impact” and highlighted the possibility of Italia becoming a Category 3 hurricane.
“Assets, we can rebuild someone’s home,” DeSantis said during a news conference Monday. “However, leaving someone at risk and facing Mother Nature can’t back down.”
Much of Florida’s west coast is at risk from storm surges and flooding. Pasco and Levy counties, north of Tampa, ordered the mandatory evacuation of some of their residents. In Levy County, Cedar Key residents were told to evacuate the island after Tuesday night because storm surge made bridges impassable.
Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland; Christiana Mezquita, in Havana; and Mike Schneider, in St. Louis, contributed to this report.
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