“You must leave now”: evacuations and preparations before Hurricane Idalia lands in Florida

Aviva Fried with AFP / Photo credits: MIGUEL J. RODRIGUEZ CARRILLO / AFP
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8:16 a.m., August 30, 2023

Florida has ordered residents on its west coast to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Idalia, which strengthened on Tuesday and could become “extremely dangerous” before making landfall on Wednesday, US officials said. “Idalia is now a Category 3 hurricane”, on the Saffir-Simpson scale which includes 5 in total, announced the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

An “extremely major major hurricane”

“Potentially deadly” coastal flooding, heavy rain and strong winds are expected, he warned. The storm also affected part of Cuba from Monday evening. From a tropical storm, Idalia became a hurricane overnight from Monday to Tuesday. The National Hurricane Center said it expects it “to rapidly intensify into an extremely dangerous major hurricane before making landfall on Wednesday.”

A “major hurricane” is a classification reserved for those that exceed category 3. They are likely to cause “devastating” and “catastrophic” destruction, according to the NHC.

“If you are there when the hurricane arrives, it will be really difficult to survive”

If you are told to evacuate, “you must do so immediately,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned at a press conference. “It’s going to be a major hurricane. You really have to leave now. If you don’t, it’ll be too late. If you’re there when the hurricane comes, it’s going to be really hard to survive,” he said. .

Also urging residents to comply with the instructions, the boss of the federal agency responsible for responding to natural disasters (Fema), Deanne Criswell, insisted on driving the point home. “Very few people can survive being in the way of a major coastal flood, and this storm will be deadly if we don’t get out of harm’s way and take it seriously,” she said. affirmed. As a precaution, the states of South Carolina and Georgia have declared a state of emergency, in case the hurricane also hits their lands, further north.

“Prepare for the worst”

In Steinhatchee, a small town of a thousand people in northwest Florida, dozens of people were preparing to evacuate. Robert Bryant was gathering things before leaving with his parents, their two cats and their dog for his grandmother’s house in Melrose inland, 150 km to the east. “We are on the water, so we will be the most affected,” the 18-year-old, whose house on stilts is located at the mouth of the Steinhatchee River which flows into the gulf, told AFP. from Mexico. “I hope there will only be a little wind and that it will pass but we have to prepare for the worst,” he continued.

At the time of publication of the last NHC bulletin, Idalia was 310 kilometers southwest of Tampa, Florida with sustained winds of up to 155 km/h.

Floods in Cuba

On the western tip of Cuba, the heavy rains generated by the passage of Idalia, then still a tropical storm, caused flooding in several localities and deprived of electricity more than 200,000 users, including 90,000 in Havana, authorities announced. . “We must now work urgently” to restore electricity and communications and “harvest to distribute as much food as possible,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said.

The rains, accompanied by gusts of wind exceeding 110 km / h, hit the tobacco production area of ​​the province of Pinar del Rio, in particular that of Vueltabajo where the best tobacco on the island is harvested. In this province, some 60,000 homes may have been damaged. According to the media, some 8,000 people had left their homes in anticipation of the storm to take refuge in shelters or with relatives.

State of emergency declared

Idalia must advance in the Gulf of Mexico, where there is currently “a wave of marine heat”, a factor of reinforcement of hurricanes, according to the researchers. US President Joe Biden on Monday approved a declaration of a state of emergency and released federal aid. Fema is already preparing for the aftermath of the storm, including pre-deploying some of its staff, according to the White House.

“I spoke to the governor last night, we’re in the process of providing whatever he might need. We’re in constant contact,” Biden said Tuesday of Mr. DeSantis, like him running for president. presidency in 2024. At the end of September 2022, Florida had been hit by the powerful hurricane Ian, which had killed nearly 150 people and caused significant damage as it passed through the south-west of this state.

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