What path is Hurricane Ian taking?

Hurricane Ian, a powerful category 3 storm, is lashing the west coast of Cuba with wind and heavy rains amid dangerous storm surge after making landfall early Tuesday.

Authorities in the Pinar del Rio province have evacuated 50,000 people from the area and set up at least 55 shelters.

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest update on Tuesday, (at 5am Eastern Standard Time), that Ian is now expected to slow down over the Gulf of Mexico and widen as it makes it way towards Florida.

Mandatory evacuations of several hundred thousand people are already underway in the Sunshine State where locals are bracing for strong winds, flash floods and isolated tornadoes.

The storm is tracking towards western Florida and the region between Fort Myers and Tampa Bay, according to NHC.

The large cities of Tampa and St Petersburg are expected to be impacted. They have not faced a direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921.

Tropical storm conditions are expected in west central Florida on Tuesday before hurricane force winds of up to 140mph pick up on Wednesday morning.

As Ian progresses from the Florida Keys northwards on Wednesday, it will bring heavy rainfall as far as Lake Okeechobee, near West Palm Beach.

Neighbouring states could also experience impacts, the NHC warned.

“Considerable flooding is expected across central Florida into southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina, with significant, prolonged river flooding expected across central to northern Florida,” the agency stated.

“Please treat this storm seriously. It’s the real deal. This is not a drill,” said Hillsborough County emergency management director Timothy Dudley on Monday in Tampa.

A storm surge of up to 10 feet of ocean water has been predicted across the Tampa Bay area along with 10 inches of rain, with as much as 15 inches in isolated areas – enough water to inundate coastal communities.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis urged the public not to panic buy as the storm approaches as thousands queued for bottled water, supplies and sand bags.

“You have a significant storm that may end up being a category 4 hurricane,” Mr DeSantis said.

“That’s going to cause a huge amount of storm surge. You’re going to have flood events. You’re going to have a lot of different impacts.”

The governor said the state has suspended tolls around Tampa Bay and mobilised 5,000 National Guard troops, with another 2,000 on standby in neighbouring states.