As Hurricane Idalia gained strength in the warm seas of the Gulf of Mexico, authorities issued orders to Florida citizens living in susceptible coastal areas to pack up and leave. They also issued warnings of a catastrophic storm surge and destructive winds when the storm comes onshore Wednesday morning.
A Category 4 hurricane with winds of at least 130 mph (209 kph) was expected to make landfall on Wednesday morning in the sparsely populated Big Bend area, where the Florida Panhandle twists into the peninsula. The outcome may strike a severe blow to a state still grappling with Hurricane Irma’s aftereffects.
Tuesday at City Hall on Cedar Key, Commissioner Sue Colson helped other city representatives pack up papers and technological equipment. She had a message for the over 900 residents who were required to leave their homes.
A group of more than a dozen state troopers went door to door informing people of the potential for storm surges to reach heights of up to 15 feet (4.5 meters).
The warning was reiterated by Governor Ron DeSantis at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Florida Prepares with Toll-Free Highways, Shelter Openings, and Massive Utility Response
Highways out of the danger zone had no tolls, shelters were open, and hotels were ready to house evacuees. Over 30,000 utility personnel had gathered to perform repairs as soon as possible in the wake of the hurricane. There were about 5,500 National Guard members on duty.
Sixty individuals were evacuated from a hospital in Tarpon Springs, a seaside town northwest of Tampa, because of fears that the system may deliver a 7-foot (2.1-meter) storm surge.
Idalia is expected to touch down in the Big Bend area on Thursday, travel across the Florida peninsula, and then inundate southern Georgia and the Carolinas.
States of emergency were declared by the governors of South Carolina (Henry McMaster) and Georgia (Brian Kemp), freeing up state resources and manpower, including hundreds of National Guard Troops members.
At 1 a.m. According to the National Hurricane Center, as of Tuesday morning EDT, Idalia was roughly 160 miles (257 kilometers) south of Tallahassee and 115 miles (185 kilometers) southwest of Cedar Key. With a speed of 26 kph, it was traveling north.
Idalia pounded Cuba with torrential rains on Monday and Tuesday, submerging the province of Pinar del Rio, which grows tobacco, and left many of its citizens without power.
Florida’s western coast is at risk of storm surges and flooding, thus 22 counties received evacuation notices, with eight of those counties issuing mandatory orders for some residents.
It was planned to close many school districts along the Gulf Coast until at least Wednesday. Additionally, a number of schools and universities, notably the University of Florida in Gainesville, closed.