Hurricane Ian is gaining strength as it nears the Florida coast in the United States’ southeast, with sustained winds approaching 250 km/h, the BBC reports.
Millions are bracing for life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic winds, and flooding.
The Category 4 storm is due to hit near the Tampa Bay region – one of the most vulnerable places in the U.S. for flooding.
Theme parks including Disney World, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens in Tampa are closing, while NASA has postponed the planned launch of a moon rocket at Kennedy Space Center.
The hurricane barrelled through Cuba on Tuesday, and much of the island is without power.
The eyewall of Hurricane Ian is moving onshore to Florida’s western coast. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the catastrophic storm surge in the area will hit 12-18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 metres) above ground level.
Catastrophic wind damage is expected. The latest reported maximum sustained wind speed of Ian is 250 km/h, making it a strong Category 4 storm.
Ian is expected to maintain its intensity as it crosses Florida. The storm will bring heavy rainfall across the Florida peninsula through Thursday, with warnings of life-threatening catastrophic flooding in parts of central Florida.
Heavy rainfall is expected to reach parts of the southeast U.S. later this week.