Tropical Storm Idalia becomes a potentially 'extremely dangerous' hurricane

Tropical storm Idalia turned into a hurricane on Tuesday, August 29, which is expected to intensify further to become "extremely dangerous" before making landfall Wednesday in Florida, US forecasters said.

Villages have already been flooded by Idalia, Cuba, on August 28, 2023. AFP - YAMIL LAGE

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Idalia is now a hurricane. It is expected to rapidly intensify to become an extremely dangerous major hurricane before making landfall on Wednesday," the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest bulletin issued at 9am GMT. A "major hurricane" is a classification reserved for those above category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which includes 5 in total. They are likely to cause "devastating" and "catastrophic" destruction, according to the NHC. Rain, heavy swells and strong winds are expected as early as Tuesday in Cuba and these bad weather are expected to lead to flooding and mudslides, warned the NHC.

"Potentially deadly coastal flooding and dangerous winds are increasingly likely for parts of Florida," the forecast center warned. Sudden, urban flooding as high as four meters could hit parts of Florida and southern Georgia on Wednesday. Flooding could reach parts of South Carolina from Wednesday to Thursday, he warned. In Charlotte Harbor, Tampa or Cedar Key, everywhere in the "Sunshine State", the population is preparing: the inhabitants barricade their windows with wooden planks and their doors with sandbags. They rush to supermarkets and ATMs, fill up with gas. More than twenty counties have ordered evacuations. Schools remain closed as of today, as does the Tampa airport.

Numerous evacuations

At the time of the last NHC bulletin, Idalia was 600 kilometers south-southwest of Tampa, Florida, with sustained winds of up to 120 km/h. According to local media, nearly 8,000 residents of Pinar del Río province, western Cuba, evacuated their homes in anticipation of his arrival. This region was affected in September 2022 by Category 3 Hurricane Ian, which killed at least two people.

In Havana, residents have confined themselves to their homes. Idalia is then expected to pass through the Gulf of Mexico, where there is currently a "marine heat wave", a factor in the strengthening of hurricanes, according to the researchers. The storm "will move over water reaching almost 31 degrees Celsius," the NHC said.

Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, announced evacuations would be ordered on the Gulf Coast. "This is going to be a major, powerful hurricane," he said, asking residents to prepare. "From Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, it's going to get really tough.

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State of emergency

President Joe Biden on Monday approved a state of emergency and released federal aid. The U.S. Federal Disaster Management Agency (Fema) is already preparing for the aftermath of the storm, including by pre-deploying some of its employees, according to the White House. The Democratic leader also spoke with Ron DeSantis to assure him of his support, the executive said. The two men, with opposing political positions, are candidates in the 2024 presidential election.

At the end of September 2022, Florida was hit by the powerful Hurricane Ian, which killed nearly 150 people and caused significant damage in its path in the southwest of this state. It had razed entire neighborhoods, alone causing more than $100 billion in damage — by far the world's costliest weather disaster of the year. With global warming, hurricanes are becoming more powerful, fueled by the warmer ocean surface, according to scientists.

(With AFP)

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