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December 8, 2022

Hurricane Ian barrels toward Florida as ‘extremely dangerous major hurricane’

Hurricane Ian strengthened to a powerful Category 4 storm as it bore down on Florida’s Gulf Coast Wednesday after knocking out power to all of Cuba.

The hurricane was around 75 miles west-southwest of Naples as of around 5 a.m. ET Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds near 140 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

The center of the storm was on track to approach the west coast of Florida Wednesday morning and move onshore later in the day, it said.

Storm surge flooding was already occurring early Wednesday across the lower Florida Keys, the hurricane center said, while thousands of customers were already without power in an early sign of the storm’s power.

Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters late Tuesday that the latest forecast track appeared to show the storm making landfall at Charlotte and Lee counties, south of Tampa.

Traffic moves slowly Tuesday on Interstate 4 East in Four Corners, Fla., as residents evacuate the Gulf Coast of Florida in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Ian.Win McNamee / Getty Images

More than 2 million people along Florida’s Gulf Coast were under evacuation orders, DeSantis said.

He urged people who hadn’t left already to do so immediately and warned of the havoc the slow-moving storm could unleash across the state.

“When it actually reaches landfall, it’s going to slow to a trickle,” DeSantis said. “That’s going to dump an enormous amount of rain on the state of Florida.”

Rain totals of 6 to 8 inches were forecast for much of the Florida Keys and South Florida. A foot to 18 inches was expected for the central and northeastern parts of the state, the hurricane center said.

DeSantis warned of possible tornadoes that had been spotted on radar and said bridges were likely to be closed Wednesday.

Thousands of people in the southern part of the state had already lost power Tuesday night — a number DeSantis said would quickly rise into the millions by Wednesday.

The latest on Hurricane Ian

  • The Category 4 storm was 75 miles from Naples, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, early Wednesday.
  • Ian knocked out power to all of Cuba after making landfall Tuesday
  • Tropical storm-force winds have reached Florida’s southern peninsula.
  • About 2.5 million residents are under some type of evacuation order in Florida.
  • Ian was producing storm surge flooding early Wednesday across the lower Florida Keys.

In Cuba, where Ian made landfall early Tuesday in the western province of Pinar del Río, the entire island of 11.3 million people was without power after the storm damaged its power grid, the country’s national electric service said Tuesday.

The agency said it expected power to be restored Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Reuters reported that violent wind gusts shattered windows and ripped metal roofs off old homes and buildings.

Roads into the areas directly hit by the hurricane remained impassable, blocked by downed trees and power lines, Reuters reported.

Hirochi Robaina, the owner of a cigar factory in Pinar del Río, posted nearly two dozen photos Tuesday on Facebook showing the wreckage the storm left behind.

“It was apocalyptic,” he said. “A real disaster.”

Tim Stelloh is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

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