Florida residents are shoring up their homes and fleeing to evacuation shelters as Hurricane Ian moves closer to land
Ian has strengthened into an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said on Wednesday.
The NHC put the hurricane’s location about 75 miles (125 km) west-south-west of Naples, Florida, at around 9am (GMT), with maximum sustained winds of 140mph.
Here’s what you need to know.
Where is the storm?
You can track where the storm is currently by following this link. Here’s the location and predicted path at about 11.30am GMT:
A hurricane warning has been issued covering roughly 220 miles of Florida including Fort Myer, Tampa and St Petersburg, which could get their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
The storm was moving closer to the west coast of Florida, moving north-northeast about 10 mph (17 kph) toward Naples. Sustained winds were about 120 mph with higher gusts.
A warning has been issued over a dangerous storm surge along Florida’s heavily populated Gulf Coast, from Bonita Beach to the Tampa Bay region.
Forecasters said the storm surge could reach 12ft if it peaks at high tide. Rainfall near the area of landfall could top 18ins.
Winds and rain have begun intensifying on Wednesday, a day after Ian battered the western tip of Cuba, bringing down the electricity grid and leaving the entire island without power.
Fuelled by the warm Gulf, Ian gained strength after ploughing over western Cuba’s prized tobacco-growing region as a Category 3 storm, and approached to Florida’s west coast.
Its forward movement slowed over the Gulf overnight, enabling it to grow wider and stronger.
Gales exceeding tropical-storm strength of 39mph reached Florida by 3am. Hurricane-force winds were expected in the state well in advance of the eye-wall – the most devastating region of a hurricane, located just outside the eye – the NHC said.
“It is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 in the storm’s projected path.
He warned at a news conference: “This the kind of storm surge that is life-threatening.”
Additional reporting by agencies