A devastating hurricane has made landfall in the USA bringing potentially life-threatening danger across four states.
Hurricane Idalia was upgraded to a Category 4 storm as it closed in on Florida on Wednesday morning.
It has now been downgraded back to Category 3 – but colossal 125mph winds are threatening to unleash a terrifying barrage of storm surges and downpours.
Power already started dipping out earlier as Florida governor Ron DeSantis urged people to stay safe during and after the cyclone.
The National Hurricane Centre warned: ‘Extremely dangerous Category 3 Hurricane Idalia makes landfall in the Florida Big Bend.
‘Maximum sustained winds were estimated to be 125 mph. Catastrophic storm surge and damaging winds ongoing.’
Kevin Guthrie, of the Florida emergency management division, said earlier: ‘The storm is here. It is here now. It is just off the coast of the Big Bend, and it’s looking like Keaton Beach is going to be the location in which we have landfall.’
Hurricane Idalia path map
Idalia was just 55 miles from Cedar Key as of 6am local time (11am UK time), near the Big Bend region, as it barrels towards towns and cities – now it has struck.
From now, the storm is expected to move eastwards across the north of Florida, near Jacksonville, before reaching the border of Georgia later tonight, around 10-12pm UK time.
It will then move along the Gulf of Mexico coastline to Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina throughout Thursday.
The hurricane will then sweep out into the Atlantic Ocean off the USA’s east coast into Friday and over the weekend.
The US National Weather Service called Idalia ‘an unprecedented event’ since no major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay abutting the Big Bend.
Hurricanes are measured on a five category scale, with a Category 5 being the strongest.
A Category 3 storm is the first on the scale considered a major hurricane.
The Met Office issued an interactive map showing the path of Hurricane Idalia.
Forecasters said: ‘Storm surges and extremely strong winds are expected to bring catastrophic and life-threatening impacts as Idalia comes on land across northwest Florida today, the first Cat 4 hurricane to hit this part of the state.’
Ms Colson had a message for the almost 900 residents who were under mandatory orders to evacuate.
More than a dozen state troopers went door to door warning residents that storm surge could rise as high as 15ft.
She said: ‘One word: Leave. It’s not something to discuss.’
A state of emergency has been declared in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina with evacuatiion orders in place for 28 counties and flood alerts issued along the hurricane’s predicted path.
The severe effects of the storm are already being felt with extreme flooding in some areas, including in the popular resort of St Pete Beach on Florida’s west coast.
Walt Disney World will have closures in place all day with its Typhoon Lagoon and mini-golf courses to shut.
Ron DeSantis told people in the path of the storm on Tuesday: ‘You really gotta go now. Now is the time.’
He has also pleaded with people to stay inside during the extreme weather in another public address.
‘And we just hope everybody stays safe. Don’t put your life at risk by doing anything dumb at this point.
‘This thing’s powerful. If you’re inside, just hunker down until it gets past – you don’t want to be messing around with these winds.’
Ending his speech, he added: ‘It’s going to be a big, big deal and it’s going to be very dangerous.’
Storm chaser Brad Arnold said of Hurricane Idalia: ‘What a beast!!!’
The full list of storm surge warnings and advisories from the National Hurricane Centre can be found here.
Last week, on the west coast of the US, Storm Hilary swallowed up cars in flood water in California.
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