Hurricane Ian strengthened into a major Category 3 storm early Tuesday morning as it made landfall in western Cuba, U.S. officials said.
Landfall was just southwest of the town of La Coloma in the Pinar Del Río province at around 4:30 a.m. ET, with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an early Tuesday morning update.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a statewide emergency, saying Ian could hit the state as a punishing Category 4 hurricane, with wind speeds topping 130 mph. A direct hit on Tampa Bay is expected as soon as Wednesday.
“That’s going to cause a huge amount of storm surge,” DeSantis said. “You’re going to have flood events. You’re going to have a lot of different impacts.”
Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from Pinar del Río as authorities sent in emergency and medical personnel ahead of the storm’s arrival this week, The Associated Press reported.
Two hours east, in Havana, fishermen hauled out their boats, city workers unclogged storm drains, and residents expressed alarm at the prospect of flooding, according to the AP.
“I hope we escape this one, because it would be the end of us,” Abel Rodrigues, 54, told the AP. “We already have so little.”
Earlier on Monday, Ian passed by the nearby Cayman Islands with no major damage reported. Emergency officials issued an “all clear” notification at 3 p.m. local time, and Premier Wayne Panton said the British territory was “very fortunate to have been spared the worst of a potentially very serious storm.”
The latest on Hurricane Ian
- By Monday night, Ian, moving northwest at 13 mph, was about 105 miles east-southeast of the western tip of Cuba, with top sustained winds increasing to 105 mph.
- Forecasters expect Ian to hit Florida’s west coast as a major hurricane as early as Tuesday.
- Cuba said that it was evacuating 50,000 people in Pinar del Río province, that it had sent in medical and emergency personnel and that it was taking steps to protect food and other crops in warehouses.
- The center of the hurricane passed to the west of the Cayman Islands on Monday, but no major damage had been reported there.
As the storm headed for Florida, oil companies evacuated workers from deepwater platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, airports in Tampa and Pinellas County announced that they would close Tuesday, and American Airlines announced travel waivers for people flying into or out of 20 airports in Florida and the Caribbean.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers said the team was temporarily moving its operations to Miami-Dade County.
Residents on Florida’s Gulf Coast stocked up on food and prepared with sandbags and plywood for their windows. Hundreds of thousands of people were under evacuation orders.
“This storm is trending to slow down, which means it could potentially sit on top of us for 47 hours,” said Cathie Perkins, the director of Pinellas County Emergency Management, NBC affiliate WFLA of Tampa reported.
“That’s a lot of rain, and it’s not going to be able to drain out quickly,” she said.