Georgia has joined Florida in declaring a state of emergency as life-threatening Hurricane Idalia looks set to cause havoc across the south-eastern United States.
The state’s governor Governor Brian P. Kemp has asked agencies to take precautions ahead of the hurricane, he tweeted: “To ensure we are prepared to handle whatever Idalia may bring, I have declared a State of Emergency and instructed state agencies to take proper precautions for its potential impact. Continue to monitor the storm and pay careful attention to updates from trusted news sources.”
It comes as Florida governor Ron DeSantis pleaded with residents to evacuate as the Category 3 storm looks set to hit the US state on Wednesday morning. High winds and up to 12 inches of rain are expected along with deadly storm surges of up to 15ft.
In addition, wind speeds are expected to hit speeds of 125mph before coming ashore north of Tampa at 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday. “You do not have to leave the state. You don’t have to drive hundreds of miles. You have to get to higher ground in a safe structure. You can ride the storm out there, then go back to your home,” Governor Ron DeSantis said Tuesday morning at the state’s emergency operations centre.
Out of Florida’s 67 counties, 25 of them were under evacuation orders, including 14 mandatory orders, as the governor admitted: “Those coastal areas there have not necessarily been through this before.” According to the National Hurricane Centre, no major hurricane has moved into Apalachee Bay in north-western Florida since 1851, as the agency admitted: “This has the makings of an unprecedented event for this part of the state.”
Tampa International Airport was forced to close its doors on Tuesday, and is set to remain shut until Thursday morning, with Florida mobilising more than 5,500 National Guardsmen and up to 40,000 emergency utility workers on standby to tackle power cuts. “There’s going to be destruction of houses and homes and structures,” said David DeCarlo, director of Hernando County Emergency Management. “This is going to be life-impacting storm surge.”
After landing in the Big Bend region, Idalia is forecast to cross the Florida peninsula and then drench southern Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday. “We’ll be prepared to the best of our abilities,” said Russell Guess, who was topping off the gas tank on his truck. His co-workers at Cunningham Tree Service in Valdosta, Georgia, were doing the same. “There will be trees on people’s house, trees across power lines.”
Idalia will be the first storm to hit Florida this hurricane season, but it is only the latest in a summer of natural disasters, including wildfires in Hawaii, Canada and Greece ; the first tropical storm to hit California in 84 years, and devastating flooding in Vermont.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch urged residents not to be complacent. “It is my hope and prayer that you have your emergency plan in place, and you are executing that plan,” Welch said at a news conference. “Time is running short to make sure you are prepared for this storm.”