(Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Ian has made landfall in western Cuba, triggering floods and power outages, as it pushes toward Florida’s coastline with the threat of becoming one of the costliest US storms.
Ian’s winds held at 125 miles (205 kilometers) an hour as it neared the Cuban city of Pinar del Rio, according to an advisory from the US National Hurricane Center at 8 a.m. New York time. It was about 130 miles from Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys.
“There is a danger of life-threatening storm surge along much of the Florida west coast,” the center said in a forecast analysis, adding that the highest risk is from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”
Ian is already triggering floods, mudslides and blackouts Tuesday in western Cuba, the heartland of the island’s tobacco industry. At least 40,000 people were evacuated, mainly from Pinar del Rio province, according to state-run media.
Ian’s winds are forecast to peak at 140 miles per hour later Tuesday, making it a Category 4 storm on the five-step, Saffir-Simpson scale, the hurricane center said. With its track veering toward Tampa, Ian will have less time to weaken and it will likely be a Category 3 -- a major hurricane -- when it hits the Sunshine State, according to Adam Douty, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc.
The hurricane will probably make landfall along the southwest Florida coast Wednesday and the precise location could mean everything to Tampa, Douty said. A landfall north of Tampa Bay would slam the city with a flooding wall of water, while if Ian hits further south the worst could be felt in Sarasota and Fort Myers, with less surge for Tampa.
“Tampa may end up avoiding the worst-case scenario, but it looks like it is going to be pretty close,” Douty said. “By the time it is clear to determine where it is going to make landfall it will be too late to evacuate or make preparations.”
The storm will bring as much as 25 inches or rain across Florida, in addition to any surge pushed on shore, Douty said. About half of all hurricane fatalities come from flooding.
Damages and economic loss in the area could reach to $60 billion to $70 billion if the current forecast comes to pass, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research. That would rank Ian in the top 10 for costliest US hurricanes, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Tampa and the surrounding region has been preparing for the storm since Monday, with evacuation orders in place and a local utility warning that it may proactively cut power to some of downtown Tampa early Wednesday to avoid serious damage to its equipment from a storm surge.
Tampa International Airport will suspend operations at 5 p.m. Tuesday, and American Airlines Group Inc. issued a travel alert for 20 airports in the western Caribbean and Florida. More than 80% of Wednesday’s flights from Tampa have been cancelled, according to FlightAware, an airline tracking company.
Tampa tourist attraction Busch Gardens will close Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers National Football League team will use the practice facility of their cross-state rivals, the Miami Dolphins.
Ian is the second destructive hurricane to rip across the Atlantic in less than a week, following Hurricane Fiona. Fiona struck Atlantic Canada over the weekend, causing extensive damage, power outages and flooding across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
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