The largest evacuation in US history is underway as more than 5.6million people have been ordered to leave Florida before Category 5 Hurricane Irma strikes the Sunshine State.
The state’s Gov. Rick Scott urged people who had not left yet to leave as soon as possible on Friday. He warned those who plan to stay, that they may have to ride out the dangerous storm at their own risk.
He explained that the biggest concern with the powerful hurricane is the predicted storm surge that will come along with the lashing winds and heavy rains.
Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total of those urged to flee Florida includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing.
Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21million people according to the U.S. Census.
Meteorologists expect the powerful hurricane to hit the Sunshine State on Sunday. As of 2am ET Saturday, the hurricane is currently about 275 miles from Miami, with wind speeds of 160mph. The outer bands of the hurricane reached the U.S. late Friday night with south Florida and the Keys experiencing increased rain and wind speeds.
Hurricane Irma made landfall in Camaguey archipelago, just off the northern coast of Cuba, around 11.10pm ET on Friday. This is the first Category 5 storm to hit the island since 1924.
‘Obviously Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States,’ Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said at a press conference Friday morning. ‘We’re going to have a couple rough days.’
The storm was first downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 earlier on Friday morning.
But as of Friday night, it is back again to being a Category 5 and will be the fourth Category 5 that has hit US mainland.
Government officials along with the National Hurricane Center have cautioned that Irma is ‘extremely dangerous’ with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. That’s strong enough to bring down power poles, uproot trees and rip the roofs off of homes.
Apocalyptic scenes played out across the Sunshine State, as millions of people fled Hurricane Irma’s wrath.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott advised for residents in the southern coastal evacuation areas to leave by midnight.
‘If you are planning to leave and do not leave tonight, you will have to ride out this extremely dangerous storm at your own risk,’ Scott said at a Friday press conference.
He also urged residents on the Gulf Coast to take evacuation orders seriously since Irma’s path has moved slightly west.
‘You are not going to survive this if it happens,’ Scott said. ‘Now is the time to evacuate.’
It’s then expected to track directly up the state, crossing the state line into Georgia early next week.
Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency to help the state get ahead of any damage caused by Hurricane Irma. The declaration also allows Virginia to provide assistance to other states who will be impacted by the storm.
Virginia may face possible flooding, high winds and storm surge as a result of Hurricane Irma.
‘It is unfortunate that just as our nation has begun the process to repair the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Harvey, that we are faced with another extreme storm,’ McAuliffe said on Friday.
‘However, if there is one lesson we can take from the tragic events that occurred in Texas, it is that we must redouble our preparation efforts.
‘The order I issued today is intended to both protect our commonwealth and to make sure we have every option at our disposal to help our neighboring states when Irma makes landfall.’
A state of emergency allows the commonwealth to mobilize resources, including the Virginia National Guard, and pre-position people and equipment to assist in storm response and recovery efforts. All Virginians must prepare in advance for the potential impacts of this historic hurricane.
Hurricane Irma killed at least 24 people in the Caribbean and left thousands homeless as it devastated small islands in its path. And it’s already proved deadly in the U.S. A man installing hurricane shutters on his Florida home fell off a ladder and died on Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane warnings for the Keys and parts of South Florida and Lake Okeechobee. It added a storm surge warning and extended watch areas wrapping around much of the peninsula.
For Irma, forecasters predicted a storm surge of 6 to 12 feet above ground level along Florida’s southwest coast and in the Keys. As much as a foot of rain could fall across the state, with isolated spots receiving 20 inches.
Scott has been pleading with his citizens all week to evacuate if they are ordered to, and to prepare – no matter the direction of the storm.
Social workers and police officers gave Miami’s estimated 1,100 homeless people a stark choice on Friday: Come willingly to a storm shelter, or be held against their will for a mental health evaluation.
Officials – backed by a psychiatrist and observed by an Associated Press team – rolled through chillingly empty downtown streets as dawn broke over Biscayne Bay, searching for reluctant stragglers sleeping in waterfront parks.
‘We’re going out and every single homeless person who is unwilling to come off the street, we are likely going to involuntarily Baker Act them,’ said Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust.