Cuba prepares evacuations as TS Ian reinforcements approach

Authorities in Cuba suspended classes in Pinar del Rio province and said they would begin evacuations on Monday as Tropical Storm Ian is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane before reaching the western part of the island en route to Florida.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa. The US National Hurricane Center said Ian should reach western Cuba late Monday or early Tuesday, hitting near the country’s most famous tobacco fields. Could become a major hurricane on Tuesday.

Cuban state media Granma reported that authorities would begin evacuating people from vulnerable areas early Monday in the far western province of Pinar del Rio. Classes there have been suspended.

At 11 p.m. EDT Sunday, Ian was moving northwest at 13 mph (20 km/h), about 140 miles (225 kilometers) south of Grand Cayman, the center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 km/h).

Meanwhile, residents in Florida kept a close eye on Ian as it ominously raced across the Caribbean on a path toward the state.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency across Florida and urged residents to prepare for the storm, which will batter large areas of the state with heavy rain, strong winds and rising seas.

Forecasters are still uncertain about exactly where Ian could make landfall, with current models projecting it toward the west coast of Florida or the panhandle areas, he said.

“We will continue to monitor the path of this storm. But it’s really important to emphasize the degree of uncertainty that still exists,” DeSantis said at a news conference Sunday, warning that “even if you’re not necessarily in the eye of the storm’s path, it’s going to be pretty broad effects across the state.” .

Flooding and urban flooding is possible in the Florida Keys and peninsular Florida through midweek, and then heavy rainfall was possible for northern Florida, the Florida panhandle, and the southeastern United States later this week.

The agency placed a tropical storm watch over the lower Florida Keys on Sunday afternoon and has advised Floridians to make hurricane plans and monitor the storm’s evolving track for updates.

President Joe Biden also declared a state of emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property. The president postponed a planned Sept. 27 trip to Florida because of the storm.

John Cangialosi, senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based center, said in an interview Sunday that it was unclear exactly where Ian would hit Florida the hardest. Residents should begin preparations, including gathering supplies for possible power outages, he said.

“It’s hard to say stay tuned, but that’s the right message right now,” Cangialosi said. “But for those in Florida, it’s still time to prepare. I’m not telling you to put up your shutters yet or anything like that, but there’s still time to get your supplies.’

Local media in Florida reported a consumer rush for water, generators and other supplies in some areas where residents moved to stock up on goods ahead of the storm.

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Associated Press writer Julie Walker contributed to this report from New York.

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