As of Monday, Tampa and St. Petersburg were among the most likely targets for their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

HAVANA, Cuba – A strengthening hurricane and rain-driven winds have slammed into the western tip of Cuba, where authorities have evacuated 50,000 people. Category 4 hurricane.

Officials in Cuba’s Pinar del Río province set up 55 shelters, dispatched emergency personnel and took measures to protect crops in Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region ahead of Iain’s expected landfall early Tuesday as a powerful hurricane. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said a storm surge of up to 14 feet (4.3 meters) could be seen along the west coast of the island.

“Cuba is expected to experience hurricane-force winds, as well as life-threatening storm surges and heavy rainfall,” Daniel Brown, a senior specialist at the hurricane center, told the Associated Press.

After passing over Cuba, Ian is forecast to strengthen even more warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before reaching Florida as early as Wednesday as a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph (225 km/h).

As of Monday, Tampa and St. Petersburg are among the most likely targets for them the first direct hit of a major hurricane since 1921.

“Please take this storm seriously. This is the real deal. This is not a drill,” Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director Timothy Dudley said Monday at a storm preparedness news conference in Tampa.

In Havana on Monday, fishermen took their boats out of the water along the famous seaside boulevard Malecón, while city workers cleared storm drains ahead of the expected rain.

Havana resident Adiz Ladron said the possibility of rising water from the storm worries him.

“I’m very scared because my house is completely flooded with water up to here,” he said, pointing to his chest.

In Havana’s El Fangito, a poor neighborhood near the Almendares River, residents gathered whatever they could to leave their homes.

“I hope we avoid that because that would be the end for us. We already have so little,” said health worker Abel Rodríguez.

On Monday night, Ian was moving northwest at 13 mph (20 km/h), about 105 miles (170 kilometers) east-southeast of the western tip of Cuba, with high sustained winds increasing to 105 mph. per hour (165 km/h).

Ian will not linger over Cuba, but will slow over the Gulf of Mexico as it expands and strengthens, “which could produce significant wind and storm surge along the west coast of Florida,” the hurricane center said.

Up to 10 feet (3 meters) of ocean water and 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain were forecast in the Tampa Bay area, with up to 15 inches (38 centimeters) in isolated areas. That’s enough water to flood coastal communities.

As many as 300,000 people could be evacuated in Hillsborough County alone, County Administrator Bonnie Wise said. Some of those evacuations began Monday afternoon in the most vulnerable areas, with schools and other places opening as shelters.

“We must do everything we can to protect our residents. Timing is of the essence,” Wise said.

Florida residents lined up for hours in Tampa to collect sandbags and clear store shelves of bottled water. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a statewide state of emergency and warned that Yang could strike large swathes of the state, knocking out power and fuel supplies as it moves north of the state’s Gulf Coast.

“You have a significant storm that could eventually become a Category 4 hurricane,” DeSantis said at a news conference. – This will cause a huge storm surge. Floods await you. You’re going to have a lot of different exposures.”

DeSantis said the state has suspended tolls around the Tampa Bay area and has mobilized 5,000 Florida National Guard troops, with another 2,000 on standby in neighboring states.

President Joe Biden, too a state of emergency has been declared, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property. The president postponed a planned trip to Florida on Tuesday because of the storm.

To play it safe, NASA planned slowly rolling his moon rocket from the launch pad to the Kennedy Space Center hangar, adding weeks of delay to the test flight.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Monday night that they are a football team transfer of football operations to the Miami area in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Buccaneers said the team will leave Tampa on Tuesday.

Flash flooding has been forecast for much of the Florida peninsula, and heavy rainfall is possible in the southeastern United States later this week. With tropical storm-force winds extending 115 miles (185 kilometers) from Yan’s center, the watch extended from the Florida Keys to Lake Okeechobee.