Society and Education
NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) -- Tropical Storm Idalia strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane Tuesday afternoon as it was heading toward the Gulf Coast in the U.S. state of Florida, forcing an emergency declaration, mass evacuations and flight cancellations as it is expected to make landfall Wednesday morning.
The hurricane was forecast to develop into an "extremely dangerous major hurricane" and lash the Gulf Coast, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
It could intensify at least to a Category 3 hurricane - classified as a major hurricane, bringing powerful winds and a potential storm surge of 10 to 15 feet.
Idalia put most of Florida's 21 million residents, along with those in the southern parts of Georgia and South Carolina, under hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings and advisories.
EMERGENCY DECLARED, MASS EVACUATIONS
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday declared a state of emergency in 46 counties, a broad swath that stretches across the northern half of the state from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast. The number was expanded to 49 counties on Tuesday.
"Buckle up for this one," DeSantis, who suspended his presidential campaign due to the crisis, said at a news conference on Monday afternoon, urging Floridians to prepare for potentially dangerous conditions.
According to local officials, more than 5,500 National Guard members have been mobilized and over 580 rescue personnel have been stationed for storm response.
Evacuation notices have been issued in at least 22 counties in the state. Many of the notices were for people in low-lying and coastal area.
Pasco and Levy counties, located north of Tampa, both ordered mandatory evacuations for some residents. In Levy County, officials said residents of Cedar Key must be off the island by Tuesday evening because storm surges would make bridges impassable.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper also declared a state of emergency on Tuesday in response to the powerful hurricane.
FLIGHT CANCELLATIONS, SCHOOL CLOSURES
Hundreds of flights have been canceled as two of the region's largest airports - Tampa International Airport and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport - suspended commercial operations on Tuesday. Amtrak has canceled at least 12 East Coast routes and is modifying others.
At least 42 school districts have announced closures over the next two days, along with 16 state colleges and seven universities.
MacDill Air Force Base, located by Tampa Bay, had prepared to evacuate several aircraft and began a mandatory evacuation Monday morning for personnel who lived in local counties, according to a statement from the U.S. Air Force.
During a phone call on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with DeSantis and approved an emergency declaration for the state, the White House said in a news release.
"Very few people can survive being in the path of a major storm surge, and this storm will be deadly if we don't get out of harm's way and take it seriously," Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Deanne Criswell told CNN.
She said that urban search and rescue teams are on standby from the FEMA, while the Army Corps of Engineers is set to support power generation missions.