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Hurricane Idalia is now packing a strong and dangerous category 3 hurricane monster Winds up to 125 mph turned streets into rivers on Florida’s west coast and gusted to 125 mph ahead of landfall expected on the state’s Gulf Coast Wednesday morning.
Residents have been warned to evacuate, while the National Guard prepares for rescue operations.Very dangerousThe storm is expected to hit the Big Bend coast, which connects Florida’s Panhandle and peninsula, with once-in-a-lifetime damaging winds and life-threatening storm surge of up to 16 feet, the National Hurricane Center said.
“There is a great potential for death and catastrophic disasters,” warned the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office in the Big Bend area southeast of Tallahassee.
“We’re starting to see an almost apocalyptic scene here,” Cedar Key resident Michael Babbitt said early Wednesday morning, even before the landfall.
“Four hours from now, Cedar Key will be unrecognizable.”
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A rare extreme wind warning — issued in cases of life-threatening gusts of 115 mph or more — was in effect for parts of Florida’s Big Bend region — including Dixie and Taylor counties, even as Italy’s sustained winds eased slightly by 7 a.m. 4 strength.
“Treat this immediate extreme wind event as if it were an approaching tornado and immediately go to a safe room in your shelter,” the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee warned. “Take action now to save your life!”
A hurricane watch is in effect for nearly 12 million people across central and northern Florida and southeast Georgia until 3 p.m. Wednesday, as conditions worsen, with coastal roads flooded and other locations including Tampa, St. Petersburg and Fort Myers Beach. As sea water pushes ashore, it rains and winds blow.
A hurricane warning was issued for southeast Georgia and South Carolina, the center of the hurricane, while still rapidly intensifying around 5 a.m. about 60 miles west-southwest of Cedar Key, Florida. said.
Destruction is possible behind the forecast cone, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday morning. At least 11 tornado warnings have already been issued, even “way outside the cone you see on your TV screens,” he said.
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As its eye moves offshore in the Big Bend region, Italia’s center will bring destructive winds and storm surge, stacking a wall of seawater halfway through the second story of the average building. It could be the first major Category 3 hurricane or the strongest hurricane to hit the area.
“This creates an unprecedented event for this part of the state,” the National Weather Service in Tallahassee said. “There are no major hurricanes in the historical dataset prior to 1851 that tracked in Appalachian Bay. No.
“Don’t mess this up.”
Desantis warned of a “significant, significant impact” to the Big Bend area, saying first responders may not be able to reach some people staying in evacuation zones until the storm passes.
“You have to go now,” he urged Big Bend residents Tuesday evening. “Now is the time.”
“Don’t try to ‘ride’ it,'” he told residents of the Big Bend town of Perry, which added storm surge of more than 15 feet, “and you won’t survive if you get caught in it.” Storm surge accounts for nearly half of all hurricane-related deaths, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In Tampa, south of the planned landfill zone, Italy’s storm surge began flooding streets within a half hour Tuesday, Police Chief Lee Bergau said.
“I personally saw people driving through the water,” he said at a storm briefing on Tuesday. “Don’t be that person. Remember: Turn, don’t sink.
Storm surge could cut off Cedar Key on the southern side of the Big Bend, said Jamie Rome, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.
“This storm is the worst we have ever seen. “My family’s been here for generations and we’ve never seen a storm this bad,” Mayor Heath Davis said Tuesday, warning that all emergency services would be suspended due to winds Tuesday evening.
Here are other developments around the state:
• Evacuation in at least 28 districts: Alachua, Baker, Citrus, Dixie, Franklin, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Levy, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Nassau, Pasco, Pinellas, Putnam, Sarasota, Suwanee, Union, Volusia and Wakulla have all issued evacuation orders, some mandatory.
• Power out: According to PowerOutage.com, nearly 66,000 customers were without power early Wednesday.
• Trip stopped: Hundreds of flights were canceled as Tampa International Airport suspended commercial operations and the terminal building at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport was closed Tuesday.
• Rescuers on standby: At least eight urban search and rescue teams, 33 ambulance strike teams and 5,500 National Guard members are on standby, and the Coast Guard is on standby, officials said Wednesday morning.
• Hospitals suspend services: Patients were transferred from three hospitals: HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital, HCA Florida Trinity West Hospital, and HCA Florida West Tampa Hospital. Meanwhile, Tampa General Hospital was building a watertight barrier to stay open for emergency care.
• Bridges will be closed: DeSantis warned residents in the path of Hurricane Italia that if winds reach 40 miles per hour or more, bridges “will not be safe to travel on” and will be closed. The high winds led officials to close the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which connects St. Petersburg to Manatee County and Pinellas County Emergency Management. declared Wednesday morning.
• Schools and universities are closed: All 50 county school districts have issued closures, as have dozens of college and university systems across Florida.
• Thousands of prisoners were evacuatedAbout 4,000 inmates were evacuated or moved to facilities better equipped to handle the storm, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
• Much of Florida is under a state of emergency: DeSantis has issued emergency declarations for 49 of Florida’s 67 counties.
Florida won’t be the only state to feel Italy’s impact. After the storm makes landfall, damaging winds and heavy rain will spread inland to Florida, parts of Georgia and the Carolinas.
In Pictures: Cyclone Italia
After hitting Florida, Italia’s center is forecast to move near or along the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina late Wednesday and Thursday, the hurricane center said.
“Italia may still become a hurricane as it moves across southern Georgia, and as it approaches the coast of Georgia or South Carolina late today,” the storm center said Wednesday morning.
North Carolina and Georgia have also declared states of emergency as they brace for flooding and hurricane-force winds.