The southeastern U.S. state of Florida braced Wednesday for the landfall of Hurricane Idalia, now a Category 4 storm, with forecasters expecting coastal areas to experience “catastrophic storm surge inundation.”
Idalia dumped heavy rain on Florida as the center of the storm approached the state’s Gulf coast with maximum sustained winds of 215 kilometers per hour.
The National Hurricane Center said Idalia strengthened Category 4—the second strongest level—hours ahead of its expected landfall in the Big Bend region.
Areas most directly impacted by the storm surge could see inundation three to five meters above ground level.
Authorities ordered mandatory evacuations in eight counties in the storm’s path, with people in 14 other countries encouraged to leave.
In preparation for rescue and repair efforts, about 5,500 National Guard troops have been activated and more than 30,000 utility workers are standing by ahead of the storm’s arrival.
Forecasters also said destructive winds would affect areas in Florida and up into neighboring Georgia Wednesday, with flooding rains also impacting those states along with North Carolina and South Carolina through Thursday.