The first strong winds ahead of Hurricane Ian began to pound Cuba’s south coast late on Monday as officials rushed to evacuate residents, secure boats and batten down homes amid warnings of a life threatening storm surge.
The fast-growing storm is centered about 155 miles (250 km) southeast of Cabo San Antonio, in far western Cuba, but has jumped in intensity in recent hours with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour (155 km per hour), making it a Category 2 hurricane on a five-step scale.
“Devastating wind damage is possible where the core of Ian moves across western Cuba,” the center said.
The storm is forecast to strengthen into a Category 3 or greater hurricane and barrel north to the Florida coast, where residents are stockpiling supplies and filling sandbags.
Residents of Batabano on Cuba’s south coast worked with many fewer resources than in Florida as the storm closed in, threatening the fishing village of precarious wooden and concrete block houses perched just a few paces from the roiling sea.
“We are here saving human lives, going house to house, taking out the elderly and children,” said local official Suleika Roche, 43, aboard a bus that was transporting residents to high ground.
The storm is set to plow north across the island as it advances into the Gulf of Mexico, but forecasts put its track well west of the Cuban capital of Havana, where a direct hit could cause catastrophic damage to the city´s antiquated infrastructure.