WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Floridians living in vulnerable coastal communities are battening down the hatches as Hurricane Idalia quickly approaches.

Idalia had strengthened to a Category 2 system on Tuesday afternoon with winds of 100 mph. The hurricane was projected to come ashore early Wednesday as a Category 3 system with sustained winds of up to 120 mph in the lightly populated Big Bend region, where the Florida Panhandle curves into the peninsula.

The result could be a big blow to a state, which is still dealing with lingering damage from last year’s Hurricane Ian.

The National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Idalia “an unprecedented event,” since no major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay abutting the Big Bend.

Paul Metro, a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Rhode Island, is on his way to the Sunshine State ahead of Idalia’s expected landfall.

“My assignment right now is sheltering,” Metro said. “I’ll help people get comfortable and take it from there.”

“We’ll try to keep things as normal as possible while they’re trying to rebuild,” he continued.

This isn’t the first time Metro has volunteered with the Red Cross during a significant natural disaster.

“You go there with the knowledge that things can change very, very rapidly,” he said. “I’ve been in situations where that has happened and you just adapt, you stay safe and then you come home.”

Metro tells 12 News that, while the work is tough, it is extremely gratifying.

“You’re catching people at a point in their life that hurts them,” Metro explained. “We’re there for moral support — to listen to people if they can’t sleep at night … everybody rallies around everyone. It’s rewarding.”

Metro is one of three Rhode Islanders currently on their way to Florida. He expects to be on assignment in Florida for the next two weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.