Hurricane Ian was expected to continue strengthening as it passed Tuesday over the western tip of Cuba, on a track for the Gulf of Mexico with Florida’s west coast in its path. Mandatory evacuations were ordered Monday in low-lying areas surrounding Tampa Bay, and officials asked others in the area to voluntarily evacuate, knowing it could take some time to move hundreds of thousands of people out of Ian’s path.
The Category 2 storm was forecast to become an even stronger Category 4, with top winds of 140 mph, before striking Florida as early as Wednesday. Tampa and St. Petersburg appeared to be among the most likely targets for their first direct hit by a major hurricane in a century. Even if Ian doesn’t hit the area directly, it could still feel the effects of the storm, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned.
“You’re still looking at really significant amount of rain, you’re looking at a lot of wind, you’re looking at a lot of storm surge, and so, yes, follow that track, but don’t think because that eye may or may not be in your area that you’re not going to see impacts,” DeSantis said during a Monday afternoon press conference. “You’re going to see significant impacts.”
The governor said the state had suspended tolls around the Tampa Bay area and mobilized 5,000 National Guard troops, with another 2,000 on standby in neighboring states. More than 27,000 power restoration personnel were put on standby to help after the storm, DeSantis said.