Hurricane Idalia is gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico as it speeds through some of the warmest waters on Earth. That same storm unleashed its wrath on Cuba on Tuesday. But it’s just a snapshot of what's heading towards Florida’s Big Bend, with the Apalachee Bay bracing for an "unprecedented" storm. From coast to coast, Florida’s schools and airports are shuttered for days and grocery stores are wiped bare of essentials. Idalia is expected to slam western Florida early Wednesday morning as a Category 3 hurricane, packing winds of up to 120 mph. Officials warn that the storm surge could be deadly, as waters in some areas could swell 10 to 15 feet high.
Emergency responders in Jacksonville say they’re ready.
"We have urban search and rescue teams that are on standby to support the state with any life-saving needs that they may have. We have the Army Corp of Engineers ready to support any power generation missions that they might need," said Deanne Criswell, a FEMA administrator.
The Tallahassee National Weather Service tweeted no major hurricane has ever hit Florida’s Big Bend in recorded history.
Residents aren’t taking any chances, lugging sandbags and preparing their homes in the midst of a suffocating heat advisory.
Unlike some cities, Jacksonville city officials aren’t passing out sandbags, with Mayor Donna Deegan saying they could hurt more than help.
"Science simply does not support that they are helpful as much as they may cause water to remain in a place," said Deegan.
The message to people in low-lying coastal areas is: Get out. Mandatory evacuations in dozens of counties are underway.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for most Florida counties and the National Guard is readying thousands of mobility and rescue vehicles for the long days ahead.
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