HAVANA (AP) — Hurricane Ian was growing stronger as it approached the western tip of Cuba on a track to hit the west coast of Florida as a major hurricane as early as Wednesday.
Ian was forecast to hit the western tip of Cuba as a major hurricane and then become an even stronger Category 4 with top winds of 140 miles (225 kilometers) over warm Gulf of Mexico waters before striking Florida.
As of Monday, Tampa and St. Petersburg appeared to be the among the most likely targets for their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
“Please treat this storm seriously. It’s the real deal. This is not a drill,” Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director Timothy Dudley said at a news conference on storm preparations in Tampa.
Authorities in Cuba suspended classes in Pinar del Rio province, sent in medical and emergency personnel, planned to evacuate 20 communities “in the shortest time possible,” and took steps to protect food and other crops in warehouses, according to state media.
“Cuba is expecting extreme hurricane-force winds, also life threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall,” U.S. National Hurricane Center senior specialist Daniel Brown told The Associated Press early Monday.
At 11 a.m. EDT on Monday, Ian was moving northwest at 13 mph (20 kph), about 240 miles (385 kilometers) southeast of the western tip of Cuba, with top sustained winds increasing to 80 mph (130 kph).
The center of the hurricane was passing to the west of the Cayman Islands, where Premier Wayne Panton said the government and its opposition were working together to keep the people as safe as possible. “We must prepare for the worst and absolutely pray and hope for the best,” Panton said in a video posted Sunday.
Ian won’t linger over Cuba, but will slow down over the Gulf of Mexico, growing wider and stronger, “which will have the potential to produce significant wind and storm surge impacts along the west coast of Florida,” the hurricane center said.
A surge of up to 10 feet (3 meters) of ocean water and 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain was predicted across the Tampa Bay area, with as much as 15 inches (38 centimeters) inches in isolated areas. That’s enough water to inundate coastal communities.
As many as 300,000 people may be evacuated from low-lying areas in Hillsborough County alone, county administrator Bonnie Wise said. Some of those evacuations were beginning Monday afternoon in the most vulnerable areas, with schools and other locations opening as shelters.
“We must do everything we can to protect our residents. Time is of the essence,” Wise said.
Floridians lined up for hours in Tampa to collect bags of sand and clearing store shelves of bottled water. Across the peninsula in Titusville, generators, gas cans, chain saws and weather radios were in demand, Ace hardware store owner Bill Pastermack said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a statewide emergency, and warned that Ian could lash large areas of the state, knocking out power and interrupting fuel supplies as it swirls northward off the state’s Gulf coast.
“You have a significant storm that may end up being a Category 4 hurricane,” 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,” he said at a news conference in Tallahassee.
DeSantis said the state has suspended tolls around the Tampa Bay area and mobilized 5,000 Florida state national guard troops, with another 2,000 on standby in neighboring states.
President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property. The president postponed a scheduled Sept. 27 trip to Florida because of the storm.
Playing it safe, NASA began slowly rolling its moon rocket from the launch pad to its Kennedy Space Center hangar, adding weeks of delay to the test flight.
Flash and urban flooding was predicted for much of the Florida peninsula, and then heavy rainfall was possible for the southeast United States later this week. With tropical storm force winds extending 115 miles (185 kilometers) from Ian’s center, watches covered the Florida Keys to Lake Okeechobee.
Bob Gualtieri, sheriff of Pinellas County, Florida, which includes St. Petersburg, said in a briefing that while no one will be forced to leave, “mandatory” evacuation orders are expected to begin Tuesday.
“What it means is, we’re not going to come help you. If you don’t do it, you’re on your own,” Gualtieri said.
Zones to be evacuated include all along Tampa Bay and the rivers that feed it, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa International Airport and well-known neighborhoods such as parts of Hyde Park, Davis Islands and Ybor City.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch urged residents not to ignore any evacuation orders. “This is a very real threat that this storm poses to our community,” Welch said.
The hurricane center has advised Floridians to have survival plans in place and monitor updates of the storm’s evolving path.
“The biggest problem is that people tend to wait until the last minute,” Pastermack said between customers. “I’m always the last person to get prepared, which is kind of ironic.”
Associated Press contributors include Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida, and Julie Walker in New York.
Cristiana Mesquita And Curt Anderson, The Associated Press
Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup
AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Tensions ran high at Iran’s second match at the World Cup on Friday as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, T-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic.
Some fans were stopped by stadium security from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags to the match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match as some fans in the stadium wept, whistled and booed.
The national team has come under close scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have wracked Iran for weeks.
Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic!”
Mobs of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted, “The Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.
After Iran’s 2-0 triumph, crowds of Iranian fans wildly waving national flags streamed out of the stadium. They thronged a group of protesters who held up photos of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose Sept. 16 death in the custody of the morality police first unleashed the protests, yelling “Victory!” to drown out chants of Amini’s name.
One 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, started to cry as shouting men blowing horns encircled her and filmed her face. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.
“We want to raise awareness about his arrest and about the women’s rights movement,” said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “I’m not here to fight with anyone, but people have been attacking me and calling me a terrorist. All I’m here to say is that football doesn’t matter if people are getting killed in the streets.”
Maryam and her friends had worn hats emblazoned with the name of an outspoken Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafouri, who had criticized Iranian authorities and was arrested in Iran on Thursday on accusations of spreading propaganda against the government. She said Iranian government supporters had taken the hats from their heads.
Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, was a star member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup team, but was surprisingly not named in the squad for this year in Qatar.
“It’s obvious that the match had become very politicized this week. You can see people from the same country who hate each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan who also declined to give his last name. “I think the arrest of Voria has also affected society in Iran a lot.”
Furious protesters in Iran have been venting their anger over social and political repression and the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, for women. The demonstrations have quickly grown into calls for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests erupted, according to monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran.
The turmoil has overshadowed the start of Iran’s World Cup campaign. The opening match against England on Monday was the scene of protests as anti-government fans waved signs and chanted in the stands. Before that match, which Iran lost 6-2, its players remained silent as their national anthem played and didn’t celebrate their two goals. On Friday, they sang along to the anthem and celebrated wildly when they scored twice against Wales.
Ayeh Shams, an Iranian from the United States, said security guards confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” written on it.
“We’re just here to enjoy the games and give a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.
Zeinlabda Arwa, a security guard at the stadium, confirmed that authorities had been given orders to confiscate anything but the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Whether you’re talking about Iran or Qatar or any country, you are only allowed to bring in the normal flag,” she said.
An angry group of Iranian government supporters shouted at Elyas Doerr, a 16-year-old Iranian boy living in Arizona who was wearing the Persian flag as a cape, until he took it off and and put it in his bag.
“They’re not liking that it’s a political statement,” he said, adding that other Iranian fans had approached him to say they appreciated the gesture.
A 32-year-old Iranian woman living in southern Spain, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals, scrambled after the match to retrieve her hat and flag that had been confiscated by stadium security. She said Qatari police ordered her to scrub off the names of Iranian protesters killed and arrested by security forces that she had written on her arms and chest, at the behest of Iranian government supporters. At the game, just traces of ink remained on her skin that was rubbed raw.
“Today’s football experience was the most intimidating I’ve ever been in, before and after the match,” she said. She described dozens of men who surrounded her and tried to smother her face with their Iranian flags, snatching her signs as Qatari security stood by.
“I don’t care about the win, to be honest. That’s not my priority.”
After the game, Iranian state television broadcast patriotic songs and showed footage of people bursting out into cheers across the country.
Isabel Debre And Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press
Sajjan mum on human rights during World Cup visit to Qatar
By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa
OTTAWA — International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan is facing opposition criticism because he did not make a public statement about human rights during his visit to Qatar for the World Cup.
“If we don’t raise the issue of human rights when we are in countries where we know human rights abuses are taking place, we have no moral authority,” said NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson.
Sajjan attended the World Cup on behalf of the Trudeau government, where the Canadian men’s team is competing for the first time in years. He met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and local officials.
Yet Sajjan’s social media postings make no mention of the host country’s documented mistreatment of migrant workers, nor the emirate’s anti-LGBTQ policies.
Those concerns have led some broadcasters and players to sport armbands that say “One Love.” The German team covered their mouths when their official photo was taken.
Sajjan’s office said he was unavailable Thursday for comment as he was flying back to Canada.
Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, who is gay, said he felt split on Qatar’s hosting.
“I’ll be honest, it’s very conflicting. I’m cheering on my team; I’m cheering on my country and (want) nothing but the best. But I’ll tell, you it’s kind of difficult,” he said
O’Regan said he could not speak for Sajjan, but noted the government voiced concerns about Qatar before the games got underway.
“We know exactly where we stand on it; we’ve voiced our displeasure clearly,” he said.
The NDP had called for a diplomatic boycott of the tournament.
“This is talking out of both sides of your mouth, with this government,” McPherson said.
“This government once again has shown that they don’t really care about human rights.”
On Monday, MPs passed a unanimous motion condemning FIFA for threatening to penalize players who wore the “One Love” armbands. The motion argued that “international sporting governing bodies have a moral obligation to support players and fans in highlighting the fight for equality against homophobia, transphobia, and all forms of discrimination in sport.”
Captains of several European countries scrapped plans to wear a “One Love” armband after FIFA, soccer’s governing body, warned they would face on-field sanctions.
Media reports from Qatar also said some fans wearing rainbow attire were refused entry to the stadiums.
This month, Amnesty International rebuked Soccer Canada for its “deafening silence” on the thousands of workers, predominantly from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, who “have been subjected to labour abuses, abysmally low pay, and other exploitation.”
Soccer Canada released a statement last month in support of ongoing reforms, but steered clear of criticizing the emirate.
Amnesty noted that peer federations from Britain, the U.S., France and the Netherlands all endorsed calls for a compensation fund for migrant workers who were mistreated while preparing Qatar for the games.
The Conservatives did not have a direct comment on Sajjan’s actions. Instead, MP Michael Chong said his party prefers that the World Cup be hosted by countries with better reputations, such as a bid by Ukraine to co-host the 2030 tournament with Spain and Portugal.
“Conservatives condemn in the strongest terms all human rights abuses around the world and are prepared to work with our democratic allies to support human rights,” Chong wrote in a statement.
The Bloc Québécois had also called for a diplomatic boycott, and lamented Sajjan’s attendance in Qatar. “Canada has no excuse to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses,” MP Martin Champoux tweeted in French on Monday.
During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Liberals urged the Harper government to raise the issue of human rights in China.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press
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