Category 4 Hurricane Idalia approaches Florida with potentially deadly storm surge


People enjoy the beach in Tampa, Florida, on 29 August 2023 as the city prepares for Hurricane Idalia.

Miguel J. Rodriguez Carrillo / AFP

  • Hurricane
    Idalia has strengthened to a Category 4 storm and is approaching Florida’s
    northwest coast with a potentially deadly storm surge.
  • The US
    National Hurricane Center warns of a potentially disastrous storm surge
    inundation of 3.5-5 meters in some coastal areas.
  • Tampa and
    St. Petersburg, home to over three million people, are of particular concern,
    with a danger of life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Florida
    Gulf Coast.

Hurricane
Idalia strengthened to a Category 4 storm early Wednesday as it barreled
towards Florida, threatening “catastrophic” impacts, with officials
forecasting it will slam into the coast within hours.

Authorities
in the southern US state described Idalia and its potentially deadly storm
surge as a once-in-a-lifetime event for Florida’s northwest coast, as they
ordered mass evacuations and issued flood alerts ahead of a projected landfall
Wednesday morning.

The US
National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Idalia, which earlier raked western Cuba,
had strengthened to a Category 4 storm as of 05:00 EST (09:00 GMT), with
maximum sustained winds of 215 kilometers per hour.

“Idalia
is a category 4 hurricane… Idalia could continue to strengthen before it
reaches the Big Bend coast of Florida in a few hours,” the NHC said in an
advisory.

“While
Idalia should weaken after landfall, it is likely to still be a hurricane while
moving across southern Georgia, and near the coast of Georgia or southern South
Carolina late today.”

READ | Hurricane Idalia strengthens as it moves towards Florida’s Gulf Coast

Warm waters
in the Gulf of Mexico are expected to further turbocharge Idalia, with wind
speeds topping 150 mph, the NHC said.

It warned
of a potentially disastrous storm surge inundation of 3.5-5 meters in some
coastal areas.

 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Deanne Criswell said:

Very few people can survive being in the path of a major storm surge, and this storm will be deadly if we don’t get out of harm’s way and take it seriously,

In the
small coastal town of Steinhatchee, resident Robert Bryant was making final
preparations Tuesday to evacuate inland with his two cats and a dog.

“We
are out on the water, so we are going to be the worst ones to get hit,”
said the 18-year-old student, whose home built on stilts is close to the mouth
of a river.

“Hopefully,
it just blows over and we have a bit of wind… but you prepare for the worst
and hope for the best,” he told AFP.

Another
Steinhatchee resident, 71-year-old John Paul Nohelj, told AFP he would stay
put.

Downplaying the risk, he said:

If you live near the water, you’re gonna get a wet butt once in a while.

The nearby
cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, part of a metropolitan area that is home to
more than three million people, are of particular concern, authorities said.

“There’s
a danger of life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Florida Gulf
Coast from Tampa Bay to the Big Bend region,” said Matthew Payne of FEMA’s
Office of Response and Recovery.

Vehicles sit in a flooded street caused by Hurrica

Vehicles sit in a flooded street caused by Hurricane Idalia passing offshore on 30 August 2023 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Idalia was
already battering parts of Florida, with flooding seen in Fort Myers Beach
south of Tampa.

The
emergency management department of Pinellas County, on Florida’s west central
coast, reported some flooded roadways early Wednesday, with winds of up to 60
miles per hour and traffic signals out.

“All
residents are advised to stay off the roads and remain sheltered,” the
department posted on social media.


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