Disasters & Accidents

Power cuts in Cuba as “life-threatening” Idalia barrels towards Florida

(Update: adds remarks by Ron DeSantis, info on evacuations in Florida)

Havana/Miami, US, Aug 29 (EFE).- Parts of western Cuba were without power on Tuesday amid strong winds, torrential rainfall and floods brought by Hurricane Idalia.

Most of the damage from the category 1 storm was in Pinar del Río, on the western tip of the Caribbean island, where almost the whole of the province has been without electricity since Monday night, when Idalia made landfall.

While the hurricane was heading north towards the US state of Florida, Cuba’s meteorological institute (Insmet) warned that the likelihood of “strong and intense” rains on the western tip of the island “will remain high” over the coming hours.

Strong swells have also been recorded in the west and southwest of Cuba that have led to flooding some low-lying areas near the coast. Thousands of people have been preventively evacuated.

Last year the area was heavily affected by Hurricane Ian, a category 3 storm that left at least five people dead, caused damage to the drinking water supply and seriously affected the tobacco harvest, one of Cuba’s staple crops.

The US National Hurricane Center has said that Idalia was “strengthening”, warning that “life-threatening storm surge and hurricane conditions” were expected for parts of the Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday night and into Wednesday.

More than 1.6 million people in the state have been ordered to evacuate their homes.

In the northwest of the state, an area informally known as the Big Bend, Idalia could make landfall on Wednesday as a category 3 storm, the NHC said.

“In some of these areas along the Big Bend, you’re talking about really, really significant storm surge potential,” Florida governor Ron DeSantis told a press conference, warning of between 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.6 meters) of water.

“You’re not going to win the battle,” he said as he urged residents to leave their homes and head for “higher ground”.

DeSantis also announced that no tolls will be charged on the highways in seven counties to facilitate evacuations.

The governor, who declared a state of emergency in 46 of Florida’s 67 counties, has urged residents of coastal towns and flood-prone areas to heed the mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders that have been issued over the past 24 hours.

The approaching hurricane has also forced the launch of surveillance satellites for a secret mission by the National Reconnaissance Office and the US Space Force in Cape Canaveral to be “delayed”.

The launch had been scheduled for 8:34 am on Tuesday morning, but the United Launch Alliance called it off in view of Idalia’s “impending” arrival.

“Out of an abundance of caution for personnel safety, a critical national security payload and the approaching Tropical Storm Idalia, the team made the decision to return the rocket and payload to the vertical integration facility (VIF),” a statement by ULA said, adding that a new launch date had yet to be announced.

The mission was due to place multiple top-secret payloads into orbit about 22,236 miles (35,786 km) from Earth, where spacecraft can remain stationary over fixed points on our planet. EFE


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