Florida and Cuba on alert for major hurricane

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Florida and Cuba on alert for major hurricane

Tropical Storm Idalia has strengthened into a hurricane as it barrels towards Florida, with officials warning of potential destruction and risk to life.

It will intensify into an “extremely dangerous major hurricane”, forecasters say, before slamming into the state’s western shoreline on Wednesday.

Much of Florida, including the heavily populated area around Tampa, will be affected by severe weather.

High winds, heavy rain and potentially deadly storm surges are all forecast.

“Don’t be complacent. Don’t get relaxed,” Mayor Dan Allers of Fort Myers Beach told residents on Monday.

The coastal city, which is still recovering from last year’s deadly Hurricane Ian, is one of many areas in south-west Florida where residents are weighing whether to evacuate.

Some 14 million people in the state are under hurricane and weather warnings, owing to Idalia’s uncertain path as it gathers force and moves northward over the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is going to be a powerful hurricane,” Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference on Monday. “This is absolutely going to impact the state of Florida in many, many ways.”

President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration in preparation for it making landfall. Governor DeSantis, meanwhile, has declared a state of emergency in dozens of counties and evacuation orders are in place for 21 of them.

Mr DeSantis encouraged Florida residents in low-lying coastal areas to seek higher ground. “Floridians, you need to be executing your plans now,” he said. “Buckle up for this one.”