Florida is bracing for the first major hurricane of the season as Hurricane Idalia gains strength while barreling towards the Gulf Coast. Experts predict Idalia could become a Category 3 hurricane by Tuesday night.
Almost 50 counties along Florida’s west coast have declared a state of emergency, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken a break from the presidential campaign trail to hunker down with Florida residents preparing for what is expected to be a major storm.
“This is going to be a major impact and Floridians should expect that this storm will be a major Cat-3 plus hurricane,” Gov. DeSantis warned on Monday.
Idalia already wreaked havoc through Cuba as a tropical storm on Monday with high winds, mass rain, and flooding.
Now the storm is gaining strength as it heads towards Florida where it’s on track to make landfall early Wednesday morning, although it could start hitting the state with hurricane-force winds as early as tonight. An area known as “big bend” just north of Tampa may see a direct hit, but the storm could shift at any time. At least eight counties along the coast have ordered mandatory evacuations ahead of what could be deadly storm surges.
“If you’re planning to get away, you start ahead of time because the traffic, it’s- no kidding. It’s horrible,” warned one Tampa resident. “We start preparing, putting away all my patio furniture, bringing in anything out there that’s loose and can fly away, getting the sandbags.”
The Tampa International Airport shut down all flights for today and will remain closed until it can assess the damages later in the week.
Water, food, and other supplies have been flying off the shelves in Florida as residents prepare for what could be days without power.
The Florida National Guard is on standby as the state prepares for the biggest storm since Hurricane Ian last September which decimated the Fort Myers area and claimed the lives of at least 150 people. The Category 5 Ian damaged 52,000 structures, nearly 20,000 of which were destroyed or severely damaged.
Adding to the stress, the recent major storms have caused a home insurance crisis in Florida. Many policies now cost almost 50% more than last year and some insurance companies have withdrawn from the state entirely.
Heavy rainfall is expected in the southeast after the storm passes through Florida, with the storm projected to move through Georgia and South Carolina by the end of the week.