At least 2.5 million Florida residents have been ordered to evacuate in anticipation of a powerful storm surge, strong winds and flooding.

St. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Residents of Florida rushed to board their homes, stash valuables upstairs and flee oncoming traffic. Hurricane Ian fearing a terrible storm which shut down the power in all of Cuba and left 11 million people without power, will hit their state’s west coast on Wednesday with catastrophic winds and flooding.

“You can’t do anything about natural disasters,” said Vinod Nair, who drove inland from the Tampa area on Tuesday with his wife, son, dog and two kittens in search of a hotel in Orlando’s tourist area. “We live in a high-risk area, so we thought it best to evacuate.”

Nair and his family were among at least 2.5 million Florida residents ordered to evacuate in anticipation of a powerful storm surge, strong winds and flooding. Fueled by warm coastal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Ian gathered strength after the Category 3 storm hit the prized tobacco-growing region of western Cuba on Tuesday.

The US National Hurricane Center predicted that Ian could become catastrophic Category 4 hurricane with winds of up to 130 mph (209 kph) before coming ashore on the southwest Florida coast Wednesday afternoon. Hurricane-force winds were expected in Florida long before the storm moved inland.

“It’s a big storm, it’s going to push a lot of water when it comes in,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 in the storm’s projected path. At a press conference, he warned: “This is such a storm surge that threatens life.”

Ian’s movement over the Gulf has slowed, allowing the hurricane to grow wider and stronger. A hurricane warning covers approximately 220 miles (350 kilometers) of the state, including Fort Myers, as well as Tampa and St. Petersburg, which could receive their the first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday that a storm surge warning had been issued for the Lower Florida Keys. The storm is moving north-northeast about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Naples, Florida. Maximum winds near 120 mph (193 kilometers per hour) with gusts.

Forecasters say the storm surge could reach 12 feet (3.6 meters) when it peaks at high tide. Rainfall near land may exceed 18 inches (46 centimeters).

Gil Gonzalez was taking no chances. He boarded up the windows of his Tampa home and put down sandbags to protect against flooding. Before evacuating, he and his wife packed their car with bottled water, flashlights, cell phone batteries and a stove.

“We put all the valuables upstairs at a friend’s house,” Gonzalez said.

Tampa, St. Petersburg and Key West airports are closed. Disney World and Sea World theme parks in Orlando closed ahead of the storm.

A husband and wife from England found themselves in a shelter before the storm while on vacation in Tampa. Glyn and Christine Williams from London were told to leave their hotel near the beach when the evacuation was ordered. Since the airport was closed, they could not fly home.

“Unfortunately, all the hotels are full or closed, so it looks like we’re going to end up in one of the shelters,” Christine Williams said.

Her husband insisted that everything would be fine. “You know, you have to go with the flow,” Glyn Williams said. “So we’re very happy with what we’re doing.”

Tropical storm force winds extending 140 miles (225 kilometers) from its center are expected to cause damage across a wide area of ​​Florida. Flooding was possible across the state, and parts of its eastern coast faced a potential storm surge threat as Ian’s tracks approached the Atlantic Ocean. The approach of the storm also prompted warnings for isolated tornadoes.

Meanwhile, there was uncertainty about exactly where landfall would take place.

Florida Power and Light warned those in Ian’s path to prepare for days without power. As a precaution, hundreds of residents were evacuated from several nursing homes in the Tampa area, where hospitals were also moving some patients.

Parts of Georgia and South Carolina may also experience flooding and some coastal waves from Friday into Saturday. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp preemptively declared a state of emergency, ordering 500 National Guard troops to be ready to respond if needed.

Before turning toward Florida, Yang made landfall in Cuba’s Pinar del Río province on Tuesday morning, packing strong winds of 125 mph (205 km/h) and wreaking havoc in the island nation’s world-famous tobacco belt. .

Local government station TelePinar reported severe damage at the main hospital in the city of Pinar del Río, tweeting photos of collapsed ceilings, strewn debris and downed trees. There were no deaths. Some left the damaged area on foot with their children, while others tried to evacuate by bus through flooded streets. Others chose to stay in their damaged homes.

“It was terrible,” Yusimi Palacios, a 49-year-old resident of Pinar del Rio, said in her damaged home. “But we’re alive, and I’m only asking the Cuban revolution to help me with a roof and a mattress.”

Associated Press contributors include Cristina Mesquita in Havana, Cuba; Cody Jackson in Tampa, Florida; Frida Frisar in Miami; Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Seth Borenstein in Washington and Bobby Cain Calvan in New York.