Florida braced for Hurricane Ian after knocking out power in Cuba

A girl lies on a bed at her flooded home in Batabano, Cuba (AFP via Getty Images)
A girl lies on a bed at her flooded home in Batabano, Cuba (AFP via Getty Images)

Florida is braced for the arrival of Hurricane Ian, which could be upgraded to a Category 4 storm, after devastating Cuba.

Around 2.5 million people have been ordered to leave their homes with the south-eastern US state likely to be hit on Wednesday.

The Washington Post has reported the area in and surrounding the city of Tampa could bear the brunt of the impact - which is likely to be felt in the local afternoon or evening, (Wednesday night UK time).

Cuba was left completely without power when Hurricane Ian struck the western tip of the island on Tuesday as a Category 3 storm.

The country’s entire electrical grid was knocked out by the storm leaving its 11 million people without power. High winds also devastated some of the tobacco farms key to Cuba’s economy. Authorities were desperately working on Wednesday morning to try to restore power.

While the storm could become more severe on its way north, upgrading to a Category 4 (out of five on the Saffir-Simpsons measurement scale), it could weaken by the time it hits the Florida Gulf Coast.

The hurricane struck Cuba at a time when the nation is struggling with an economic crisis and power outages have been frequent, although they have seldom been on this scale.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Ian, which caused flooding, damaged houses and toppled trees.

Two people were reported dead and buildings were damaged nationwide. Authorities were still assessing the damage.

People walk through a flooded street in Batabano, Cuba (AFP via Getty Images)
People walk through a flooded street in Batabano, Cuba (AFP via Getty Images)

Hirochi Robaina, a tobacco farmer in the badly-hit La Robaina region, told AP: "It was apocalyptic, a real disaster.”

State media said Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the affected region.

Ian was expected to get even stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico, reaching top winds of 130 mph (209 kph) approaching the southwestern coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.

Officials had set up 55 shelters and took steps to protect crops, especially tobacco.

Videos on social media showed downed power lines and cut off roads in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque. A hospital in Pinar del Rio was also damaged.

"The town is flooded," said farmer Andy Munoz, 37, who lives in Playa Cajio in Artemisa.

He said many people lost their belongings due to the storm surge.

"I spent the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The masonry and zinc roof of the house had just been installed. But the storm tore it down," said Mercedes Valdes, who lives along the highway connecting Pinar del Rio to San Juan y Martinez. "We couldn't rescue our things... we just ran out."

Additional reporting by AP.