Florida Issues Evacuation Order for Tampa Ahead of Hurricane Ian
By Staff, Agencies
Florida officials issued a mandatory evacuation order to residents of Tampa in anticipation of Hurricane Ian, and leaders in other parts of the state are warning residents that similar orders could come within the next day as they brace for a storm that forecasters fear will be potent.
Ian moved near the Cayman Islands and closer to western Cuba early on Monday on a track to hit Florida as a major hurricane this week.
Hillsborough county, which covers a part of Tampa, issued a mandatory evacuation order to more than 300,000 people on Monday morning. The county also cancelled school on Tuesday.
“Do not wait. Time is of the essence. Act now,” Bonnie Wise, county administrator, told residents.
If Ian hits Tampa directly it would be the first hurricane to do so in a century, meteorologists calculate.
Officials in Sarasota county – to the south of Tampa – and Pinellas county, which covers St Petersburg, have warned residents that evacuation orders will probably come on Tuesday.
The storm was forecast to intensify rapidly and hit Cuba as a major hurricane – category 3 or above – late Monday, and then become an even stronger category 4 hurricane over warm Gulf of Mexico waters before striking the west central coast of Florida as soon as Wednesday.
Authorities in Cuba suspended classes in Pinar del Río province and planned evacuations on Monday as Ian gained strength on approach to Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa.
“Cuba is expecting extreme hurricane force winds, also life-threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall,” Daniel Brown, a senior specialist at the US National Hurricane Center, told the Associated Press early on Monday.
The hurricane center said Ian should reach far-western Cuba late Monday or early Tuesday, hitting near the country’s most famed tobacco fields.
At 8am EDT on Monday, Ian was moving north-west at 14mph [22km/h], about 90 miles [145km] west-south-west of Grand Cayman, sustaining top winds of 75mph [120km/h].
In the Cayman Islands, members of the government and opposition said they were working together “to ensure that our people are made as safe as possible – the supplies, plywood, in some cases sandbags, are distributed so that they can safely weather this storm”.
The hurricane center added, “Ian is not expected to spend much time over western Cuba, and additional strengthening is likely over the south-eastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.
“Ian is likely to have an expanding wind field and will be slowing down by that time, which will have the potential to produce significant wind and storm surge impacts along the west coast of Florida.”
A hurricane watch was issued for Florida’s central western coast including the Tampa Bay area. Additional watches for more northern areas along the peninsula’s west coast may be issued, Brown said.
Tampa Bay – home to well-known cities Tampa, Clearwater and St Petersburg – is extremely vulnerable to flooding from storm surges, which is likely to occur as Ian continues strengthening. Forecasts show Ian as a category 3 – if not a category 4 – hurricane when it hits Tampa Bay.
Florida residents were getting ready, lining up for hours in Tampa to collect bags of sand and clearing store shelves of bottled water.
At a press conference Monday, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who declared a state of emergency for the entire state, advised residents to take action while remaining calm.
“This is a really, really big hurricane at this point,” he said. “The storm surge is likely to be significant given how big the storm is.”
DeSantis also warned of traffic congestion as residents follow evacuation orders.
Tampa-based National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Davis told CNN that Tampa residents should be prepared for a major storm.
“The last major hurricane that actually made a direct hit was 100 years ago,” he said. “We tell people even if they’re lifelong Floridians like myself, this is something that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. So we definitely need to take it seriously.”
Flash and urban flooding is possible in the Florida Keys and Florida peninsula through midweek, and then heavy rainfall is possible for north Florida, the Florida panhandle and the south-east United States later this week.
Joe Biden postponed a scheduled Tuesday trip to Florida for a midterm elections rally because of the pending storm.
Biden also declared an emergency, authorizing his homeland security department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency [Fema] to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance.
On Monday afternoon, BP and Chevron paused production at offshore oil platforms in the gulf.
Nasa plans to move its Artemis 1 lunar rocket off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, almost 130 miles across from Tampa, on Florida’s Atlantic coast, possibly adding weeks’ more delay to the mission to fly a crew-capable, though unmanned, exploration capsule around the moon.