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Tampa: Hurricane Ian, expected to be one of the costliest storms in US history, has prompted mass evacuations, school closures and thousands of flight cancellations in the third-largest state American.
The storm, which has already hit Cuba, has winds in excess of nearly 120 mph (193 km/h) as it swirls over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, about 338 kilometers from Punta Gorda, in Florida, according to an advisory from the US National Hurricane Center at 6 p.m. New York time.
The storm is expected to strengthen through Wednesday, bringing threats of two-meter storm surges to Tampa Bay and heavy rains to the southeastern United States.
Local media played video of interstate highways jammed with cars and trucks trying to flee vulnerable towns and villages along Florida’s west coast. Damage and economic losses in the region could exceed $45 billion if current forecasts come true, said Chuck Watson, disaster modeler at Enki Research.
That would rank Ian as the eighth costliest US hurricane, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Previous estimates were higher when it appeared that Ian was going to hit Tampa straight.
The storm comes as climate change is fueling extreme weather around the world, including hurricanes that rapidly gain strength as they approach land.
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