Hurricane Idalia has made landfall in Florida as a Category 3 storm, unleashing devastation along a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast.
On Wednesday, the storm raked across the southern United States, submerging homes, turning streets into rivers and downing power lines.
More than 330,000 customers in Florida and Georgia were without electricity as rushing water covered coastal streets. As the eye of the hurricane moved inland, high winds snapped trees and shredded signs, sending sheet metal flying.
“We have multiple trees down, debris in the roads, do not come,” the fire and rescue department of Cedar Key posted on social media.
A tidal gauge on the small barrier-island community measured the storm surge at 2 meters (6.6 feet) — enough to submerge most of the downtown.
“We have propane tanks blowing up all over the island,” the fire and rescue department added.
The National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Idalia “an unprecedented event”. No major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay abutting Florida’s Big Bend region, a curved area along the Gulf of Mexico.
Idalia grew into a Category 2 system on Tuesday. It quickly intensified into a major cyclone, hitting Category 3 on Wednesday before peaking as a Category 4 hurricane. It then weakened slightly.
Nevertheless, the state, still dealing with lingering damage from last year’s deadly Hurricane Ian, feared disastrous results.
Tolls were waived on highways out of the danger area, and shelters were opened. More than 30,000 utility workers gathered in the state to make repairs as quickly as possible in the hurricane’s wake. About 5,500 National Guard troops were activated.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said the 2023 hurricane season would be far busier than initially forecast, partly because of extremely warm ocean temperatures. The season runs through November 30, with August and September typically the peak.