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More than 2.5 million Floridians were under some kind of evacuation warning Tuesday as Hurricane Ian marched closer to the state’s west coast after knocking out power across all of Cuba.
Southern Florida began feeling the storm’s first effects Tuesday evening, with rain and powerful winds whipping the region, and tornado threats which will last overnight. An apparent tornado at North Perry Airport in Broward County caused “significant damage” to several aircraft and hangars, Mayor Michael Udine said on Twitter.
The Category 3 storm was churning 120 mph winds Tuesday night with its center roughly 180 miles south-southwest of the city of Punta Gorda, close to where it’s expected to make landfall in less than 24 hours. City authorities there announced Tuesday night emergency services, including police and fire response will be suspended until after the storm passes, when it will be safe to resume response calls again.
For days, forecasters and Florida officials have warned this will be a dangerous storm with life-threatening storm surge and flooding and fierce winds. Tuesday night, Ian’s hurricane-force winds extended 40 miles out from its center and tropical storm-force winds extended roughly 140 miles out, with some parts of the Florida Keys reporting wind gusts stronger than 50 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“I implore, I urge everyone that is in an evacuation zone that has been asked to evacuate – the time is now. You must evacuate now. There will be a time when it will not be safe to travel the roads,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie warned in a news conference Tuesday evening.
“There will come a point in time when local public safety officials will not be able to respond to your cry for help. You may be left to fend for yourself,” he added.
Ian will likely make landfall Wednesday afternoon to evening between Sarasota and Port Charlotte as a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane. (Hurricanes are designated as Category 4 when winds reach speeds of 130 mph to 156 mph.) Whichever of the two it is, one forecaster warned the storm still be a “large and destructive hurricane” for the state, urging residents to listen to local leaders’ advice.
And it’s not just southwest Florida taking a hit.
“This is going to be a lot of impacts that will be felt far and wide throughout the state of Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in Tuesday evening’s news conference. “As the storm moves in, you’re going to potentially have (evacuation) directives issued from folks in the interior of our state or even the east coast of the state for low-lying areas that absolutely could end up flooding.”
All of Cuba in the dark
Ian made landfall in Cuba earlier Tuesday as a Category 3 hurricane. Tuesday night, Cuban state media reported the entire island was in a nationwide blackout. Cuban officials said the hurricane caused the power outage and they hoped to begin restoring electricity late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Earlier, state electric company Unión Eléctrica de Cuba said they would keep power off in Havana to avoid deaths and property damage until the weather improved. The company said they had turned the power off in the area ahead of the storm to avoid electrocutions and to prevent fires.
Cuba’s tobacco-rich Pinar del Rio province lost power because of the storm, according to Cuban state television. Floodwater covered fields and fallen trees lay in front of buildings in San Juan y Martinez, a town in the province, images from state media outlet Cubadebate show.
Up to 16 inches of rain and mudslides and flash flooding were possible in western Cuba, the hurricane center said. Mayelin Suarez, a resident of Pinar del Rio city, told Reuters the storm made for the darkest night of her life.
“We almost lost the roof off our house,” Suarez told Reuters. “My daughter, my husband and I tied it down with a rope to