Tropical Storm Ian is strengthening as it heads toward Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Officials and residents of Florida were keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Ian as it roared through the Caribbean on Sunday, expected to continue to strengthen and become a major hurricane in the coming days along a forecast line toward the state.

Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency across Florida and urged residents to prepare for a storm which could hit large parts of the state with heavy rains, strong winds and rising seas.

“We encourage all Floridians to prepare,” DeSantis said in a statement.

President Joe Biden, too declared a state of emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect life and property. The president postponed a planned Sept. 27 trip to Florida because of the storm.

The National Hurricane Center said Ian is expected to strengthen before moving over western Cuba and toward the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by midweek. The agency advised Florida residents to have hurricane plans and follow the updates from the path of the storm.

The center issued an updated advisory at 5 a.m. Sunday, noting that the tropical storm is expected to begin “rapidly intensifying later today” with “the risk of significant wind impacts and storm surge for western Cuba.”

Ian was expected to become a hurricane Sunday and a major hurricane late Monday. The storm had sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph) Sunday morning as it spun about 345 miles (555 kilometers) southeast of Grand Cayman, in the Cayman Islands.

A hurricane warning remains in effect for the island, and hurricane watches have been issued for western Cuba.

Cuban state media reported that emergency authorities had gathered to plan for the storm’s arrival and prepare for evacuations, although none had been ordered as of Sunday. The National Hurricane Center’s forecast showed a major storm hitting the westernmost part of the island early Tuesday, near the country’s most famous tobacco fields.

John Cangialosi, senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based center, said in an interview Sunday that it was unclear exactly where Ian would hit hardest. Florida residents should begin preparations, including gathering supplies for potential power outages, he said.

“It’s hard to say stay in line, but that’s the right message right now,” Cangialosi said. “But for those in Florida, there is still time to prepare. I’m not telling you to put up your blinds or anything like that just yet, but it’s still time to get your supplies.

In Pinellas Park, near Tampa, people waited in line at Home Depot when it opened at 6 a.m. Saturday, Tampa Bay Times reported. Manager Wendy Macrini said the store had sold 600 cases of water by early afternoon and had run out of generators.

People were also buying plywood to support their windows: “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” Matt Beaver of Pinellas Park told the Times.

Elsewhere, powerful post tropical cyclone Fiona made landfall Saturday in Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Canada region, sweeping homes out to sea, tearing off roofs and knocking out power to more than 500,000 customers in two provinces.

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