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Live Updates: Hurricane Ian forecast to hit Florida’s west coast as a Category 3 hurricane

Hurricane Ian Gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico and expected to hit the west coast of Florida late Wednesday grade 3 storm, officials said.

“The National Hurricane Center is now predicting that landfall will occur at 125 mph in 35 hours … making it a major, Category 3, landfalling hurricane,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Press conference Tuesday morning.

Tampa and St. Petersburg appeared to be among the most likely targets for the first direct hit of a major hurricane in over a century. But the latest path projection means Ian is now expected to hit further south along the coast.

Compulsory and voluntary evacuation orders are in place in eight Florida counties: Charlotte, Hillsboro, Levi’s, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota.

“It’s important to say that the Tampa Bay area, you’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still going to be a thunderstorm in the Tampa Bay area,” Guthrie said. “You need to continue to heed the warnings that are for Pinellas, Tampa, Manatee, Hillsboro. If you’ve been evacuated, don’t return yet.”

Forecasters said Ian was expected to move over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday before passing west of the Florida Keys on Tuesday night. The National Hurricane Center said it would then approach the west coast of Florida as an “extremely dangerous” hurricane.

On Tuesday, the storm hit Cuba with strong winds and deadly storms, according to forecasters. It made landfall at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Río province, where authorities set up 55 shelters and evacuated 50,000 people.

Contribution: The Associated Press

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