Photos: Hurricane Idalia strengthens as it churns towards Florida | Weather News

Tropical Storm Idalia has become a hurricane, threatening to bring a deadly storm surge and dangerous winds to the Gulf Coast of Florida after lashing Cuba with heavy rain.

Florida residents have been loading up on sandbags and evacuated from homes in low-lying areas along the Gulf Coast to prepare for a storm that the National Hurricane Center projected could have sustained winds of up to 193 kilometres per hour (120 miles per hour).

That would make it a Category 3 hurricane — a potentially big blow to a US state still dealing with lingering damage from last year’s Hurricane Ian.

Idalia already brought heavy rains to Cuba, hitting the westernmost part of the island hard.

Authorities in the tobacco-producing province of Pinar del Rio issued a state of alert, and residents fled to friends’ and relatives’ homes. As much as 10cm (four inches) of rain fell in Cuba on Sunday, meteorological stations reported.

Idalia was expected to start affecting Florida with hurricane-force winds as soon as late Tuesday and authorities urged residents to wrap up storm preparations by Tuesday morning at the latest.

It will be the first storm to hit the southeastern US state this hurricane season.

Idalia also is the latest in months of extreme weather that has seen massive wildfires devastate Hawaii, Canada and Greece; the first tropical storm to hit California in 84 years, and devastating flooding in Vermont.

“Just got to prepare for these things, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst and, you know, hunker down, as they say,” Florida resident Derek Hughes as he waited to load up his car with sandbags at a city park in Tampa.

Large parts of the western coast of Florida are at risk of storm surges and floods and evacuation notices have been issued in 21 counties with mandatory orders for some people in eight of those counties.

Many of the notices were for people in low-lying and coastal areas, for those living in structures such as mobile and manufactured homes, recreational vehicles and boats, and for people who would be vulnerable in a power outage.

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