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Category 3 Hurricane Idalia slams ashore at Florida's Big Bend

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FLORIDA: Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida as an "extremely dangerous" Category 3 storm on Wednesday after millions of residents evacuated or hunkered down in homes and shelters in anticipation of a life-threatening storm surge.

Drawing strength from the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters, Idalia unleashed destructive winds and torrential downpours that were forecast to cause coastal flooding up to 4.88 m deep along the state's Gulf Coast.

Idalia came ashore at 7:45 a.m. at Keaton Beach, an ocean-front community of 13,000 people in Taylor County, about 121 km southeast of Tallahassee, the state capital. The town lies in the center of the Big Bend region, where the state's northern panhandle curves into the Florida Peninsula.

"It's just ripping through Taylor County now. Hope all is safe," County Commissioner Jamie English said. "Winds gusting. Terrible power outages all over. Debris flying everywhere."

Video footage from Keaton Beach posted on social media platform X by storm chaser Sidney Grimmett showed heavy downpours and trees whipping in the wind as an electrical line sparked along the side of a roadway.

Overnight, Idalia attained "an extremely dangerous Category 4 intensity" on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale on its way to landfall in Florida Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said.

Sparsely populated compared with the Tampa-St. Petersburg area to the south, the Big Bend features a marshy coast, threaded with freshwater springs and rivers, and a cluster of small offshore islands forming Cedar Key.

Early Wednesday morning, storm winds were knocking bent palm tree tops against Ken Wood's house in Dunedin, near Tampa and 185 miles south of landfall.

Most of Florida's 21 million residents, and many in the adjacent states of Georgia and South Carolina, were under hurricane warnings and other storm-related advisories. State emergency declarations were issued in all three.

Florida's Gulf Coast, southeastern Georgia and eastern parts of North and South Carolina could face 10 to 20 cm of rain through Thursday, the hurricane center warned.

Officials said the storm's most dangerous feature would be a powerful surge of wind-driven surf that is expected to flood barrier islands and other low-lying areas along the coast.

Surge warnings were posted for hundreds of miles of shoreline, from Sarasota to the sport fishing haven of Indian Pass at the western end of Apalachicola Bay. — Reuters

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