The Navy said it started moving ships from Naval Station Mayport on the Atlantic Monday — starting with the littoral combat ship Cooperstown — and would continue to do so on Tuesday. Ships remaining in port will undergo complete heavy weather mooring, and aircraft not evacuating from area airfields will head to hangars equipped to withstand hurricane winds, the service said.
The sortie condition is a precautionary measure aimed at minimizing the risk of damage to assets, according to the commander of U.S. 4th Fleet, Rear Adm. Jim Aiken.
“Hurricanes and tropical storms are inevitable in Northeast Florida,” Aiken said in a Navy news release. “We’ve planned, practiced and reviewed prior years’ storm responses and time and time again early preparation has led to safe execution.”
Capt. Ian Johnson, commander of Navy Region Southeast, on Monday ordered all Navy installations in the Jacksonville area to establish a Hurricane condition of Readiness Three, meaning to brace for damaging winds in the next 48-hours. All bases in the region are expected to shutter nonessential operations as of Tuesday afternoon, the Navy said.
Additionally, the commander of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa on Monday ordered a mandatory evacuation of families and nonessential staff. The installation houses both U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.
At 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Idalia was about 275 miles (440 kilometers) south-southwest of Tampa, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph), the National Hurricane Center said. It was moving north at 14 mph (22 kph).
Idalia’s center will most likely hit a lightly populated area of the Gulf Coast known as the Big Bend before crossing the peninsula and drenching southern Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday, forecasters said.
Idalia thrashed Cuba with heavy rain, especially in the westernmost part of the island, and residents were evacuated to friends’ and relatives’ homes as up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain fell, meteorological stations reported.
Southwest Florida is still recovering from Hurricane Ian, which was responsible last year for almost 150 deaths. The Category 5 hurricane damaged 52,000 structures, nearly 20,000 of which were destroyed or severely damaged.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.