Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has urged residents of the southeastern US state to prepare for an incoming storm as Idalia strengthens in the Caribbean and is set to become a “major hurricane” before reaching Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast this week.
Tropical Storm Idalia intensified early on Monday and could bring an increasing risk of life-threatening storm surges and dangerous hurricane-force winds to Florida as soon as late Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in a morning advisory.
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The storm is forecast to travel across western Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico before reaching northwest Florida, the agency said.
“This is going to be a major hurricane,” DeSantis said during a news conference on Monday morning.
“If you are in the path of this storm, anywhere on that Gulf coast from the Tampa Bay area all the way up to Franklin County in northwest Florida, just prepare for major impacts,” said DeSantis, who is running for the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
“Now’s the time to take the appropriate precautions. We do expect Hurricane Idalia to be a major hurricane that will strike the state of Florida.”
At 11am (15:00 GMT) on Monday, the storm was about 125km (80 miles) off the western tip of Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 100 kilometres per hour (65 miles per hour). Idalia was moving north at 13km/h (8mph), the NHC said.
An earlier update on Monday morning also included a hurricane advisory for the Cuban province of Pinar Del Rio.
Heavy rainfall in western Cuba could produce flooding and landslides, forecasters said, and hurricane-force winds were expected later on Monday.
Florida’s state government said on Sunday that 1,000 national guard members were being mobilised to respond to the incoming storm alongside law enforcement and emergency personnel.
DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 46 counties, a broad area that stretches across the northern half of the state from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast.
US President Joe Biden also spoke with DeSantis on Monday and approved an emergency declaration for the state, the White House said. The move authorises federal assistance to flow to Florida.
Along a vast stretch of Florida’s west coast, up to 3.4m (11ft) of ocean water could surge on shore, raising fears of destructive flooding.
That part of Florida is very vulnerable to storm surges, said Jamie Rhome, deputy director of the NHC. “So it will not take a strong system or a direct hit to produce significant storm surge,” he said.
Mexico’s National Meteorological Service on Sunday warned of intense to torrential rains showering the Yucatan Peninsula with winds as strong as 89km/h (55mph).
While Idalia is not forecast to make landfall in Mexico, the agency warned people there to stay alert because the storm could cause anything from powerful waves to flooding in southern Mexico, mainly around coastal cities in the Yucatan and Quintana Roo states.
From 14 to 21 named storms are forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season this year, which runs from June 1 to November 30, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US.
On August 10, the agency updated its forecast from “near normal” to an “above normal” outlook.
Of the predicted storms, six to 11 could become hurricanes with two to five of them possibly becoming major hurricanes, NOAA said.