Cuban authorities evacuate 50,000 people as the storm roars on a path that could next hit the US as a Category 4 hurricane.
Hurricane Ian has made landfall in western Cuba as a Category 3 storm, says the country’s Institute of Meteorology.
“Ian is already over Cuban territory,” said a meteorologist from the institute in a special broadcast on state television. “The outer wall of the storm is on the coast of the province of Pinar del Rio.”
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the hurricane is packing maximum sustained winds of 185km/h (115 mph).
About 50,000 people in western Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province were moved to safer locations – 6,000 of them to state-run shelters and the rest to the homes of relatives and friends, local authorities said.
Officials rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region.
In the capital Havana, fishermen took their boats out of the water along the famous Malecon seaside boulevard, and city workers were clearing storm drains ahead of the expected rain.
After passing over Cuba, Ian was forecast to strengthen further over warm Gulf of Mexico waters before reaching the US state of Florida as early as Wednesday as a Category 4 storm with top winds of 225km/h (140 mph).
In Florida, the city of Tampa was under a hurricane watch, and Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties.
Ian “will bring heavy rains, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surge, along with isolated tornado activity along Florida’s Gulf Coast”, DeSantis said at a press conference in Tallahassee on Monday as he warned people to prepare for power cuts.
The Biden administration declared a public health emergency for the state on Monday and said it was working with local officials to provide support.
Both Cuba and the US have in recent years seen wetter, windier and more intense hurricanes, which some experts attribute to climate change.
There is evidence that climate change is causing storms to travel more slowly, dumping more water in one place.
The Caribbean and parts of eastern Canada are still counting the cost of powerful Hurricane Fiona, which tore through last week, claiming several lives.