Hurricane Charley struck Cuba late Thursday and forecasters say the storm will strike the west coast of the U.S. State of Florida on Friday. Charley is forecast to strengthen as it moves closer to the United States and evacuation orders have been issued for those living in low-lying areas along Florida's southwest coast.

Hurricane Charley could be the first major hurricane to strike the west coast of Florida in more than 30 years and forecasters are warning of heavy flooding and storm surges of higher three meters.

A major concern is Tampa Bay, where the storm is expected to strike on Friday. Evacuation orders have been issued for hundreds of thousands of people living in low lying areas of the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota.

Further south in Key West, Mayor Jimmy Weekly said many residents remember Hurricane George, the last hurricane to strike the keys, and are taking no chances. "You know five years ago, it is still fresh in people's memories of what we went through in Hurricane George. So, they are taking it a lot more seriously. People started preparing a lot earlier than they did five years ago, so hopefully they understand although we do not know what is going to happen, they do need to get prepared now and not wait until the last minute," he said.

Charley is the second major storm to strike Florida in 24 hours. Tropical storm Bonnie brought heavy rains and surf to Florida's panhandle before moving inland late Thursday.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters say 2004 will be an above average year for Hurricanes and tropical storm activity, predicting a total of 12 to 15 tropical storms, including six to nine hurricanes, with two to four becoming major hurricanes.