MIAMI, Florida: As Hurricane Ian crashes across the Caribbean, bringing high winds and torrential rains, Florida residents are scrambling to place sandbags around their homes and stockpile emergency supplies.
Classified as a Category 2 hurricane, Ian has produced winds of over 100 miles per hour and is expected to intensify before making landfall in Cuba.
Once Ian leaves Cuba, it could reach Tampa Bay at the end of the week or head northwest toward the Florida Panhandle.
"This is a really big storm, which could potentially envelop both coasts of the state," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said during a news conference.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has declared a public health emergency for Florida, adding that it was working with local officials to provide support.
In the historic Tampa neighborhood of Ybor City, northeast of downtown, Diane Zambito, 64, said she normally does not become anxious with hurricanes.
However, this week she said, "This one is different. This one scares me. It is too big to not be scared if you have any sense," she said, as quoted by Reuters.
DeSantis has mobilized 5,000 National Guard members, and an additional 2,000 are on the way from Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.
Key West could be one of the first places in the U.S. to be struck by Hurricane Ian, Mayor Teri Johnston said, adding that residents stocked up enough food and water to last a week, and homeowners and vacation rentals had nailed up storm shutters or boards across windows.
Meanwhile, BP has stopped oil production at two platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Bob Oravec, meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said between 6 to 12 inches of rain are expected to fall on both Florida's Gulf and Atlantic coasts by the end of the week.
Ian follows powerful Category 4 Hurricane Fiona, which devastated Puerto Rico last week, leaving most of the U.S. territory without power and drinking water.