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 between 5am and 7am ET on Sunday. As of 6.30pm ET Friday, the hurricane is moving west at 12 mph and located 345 miles southeast of Miami.
The above map shows Hurricane Irma’s current projected track towards the U.S. and up the state of Florida this weekend
Get out: 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. Above traffic is pictured on the northbound lanes of I-95 near the Georgia-South Carolina border
Florida’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. Above an empty road is pictured in Key Largo, Florida on Friday
Few cars traversed the normally rush hour traffic gridlocked streets in downtown Miami on Friday
Hundreds of people gather in an emergency shelter at the Miami-Dade County Fair Expo Center in Miami, Florida on Friday
At Miami Coral Park Senior High School, evacuees fill every corner at the evacuation center on Friday
Above an empty street is pictured in the heart of downtown Miami on Friday as one man rides his bicycle
Above boarded up buildings are seen in preparation of Hurricane Irma during a mandatory evacuation in Miami Beach, Florida on Friday
Above Gustavo Mejia (left) and his nephew Juan Mejia (right) take a selfie in front of a boarded up hotel in Miami on Friday
A surfer enjoys the waves as people in the area await the arrival of Hurricane Irma on Friday in Miami Beach
Yvette Sedeno, 62, left, and Ray Sedeno, 62, install storm shutters on to their windows on their lanai while preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Irma on Friday, in Dade County, which is south of Miami
People use their cellphones near boarded up stores in preparation of Hurricane Irma in Miami Beach, Florida on Friday
A message to Hurricane Irma is written on the facade of a boarded restaurant on Friday in Miami Beach, Florida
An empty beach is seen before the arrival of hurricane Irma in Miami, Florida on Friday
Traffic along Interstate 75 north, rear, crawls toward Atlanta as drivers flee Hurricane Irma on Friday in Griffin, Georgia
The Worth Avenue shopping district is shown after a mandatory evacuation order went into effect on the barrier island of Palm Beach, Florida on Friday
In this geocolor image GOES-16 satellite image taken on Friday, Hurricane Irma, center, approaches Cuba and Florida, with Hurricane Katia, left, in the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Jose, right, in the Atlantic Ocean
Hurricane Irma is driving toward Florida passing the eastern end of Cuba as Hurricane Katia (L) is also seen in this NASA GOES satellite image taken at 1pm ET
A photo of Hurricane Irma on Thursday, taken by NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik on the International Space Station.
‘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 5pm ET on Friday, it is predicted to hit the U.S. as a Category 5. This will only be the fourth time ever a Category 5 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 are playing out across the Sunshine State, as more than a million people flee Hurricane Irma’s wrath.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is telling 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.’
The forecasts show that dangerous storm surges could begin as early as Saturday night before the storm even hits Florida.
It’s then expected to track directly up the state, crossing the state line into Georgia early next week.
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.
CURRENT EVACUATION ORDERS FOR THE U.S.
Monroe County: This mandatory order stands for the entire Florida Keys. About 31,000 people were evacuated as of 6pm Wednesday
Miami-Dade County: Mandatory evacuations for all of Zone A, all of Zone B, and portions of Zone C.
Broward County: Voluntary evacuations of mobile homes and low-lying areas; mandatory evacuation of all areas east of U.S. 1 including barrier islands beginning Thursday
Brevard County: Mandatory evacuations for Zone A, Merritt Island, barrier islands, and some low-lying mainland areas along Indian River Lagoon beginning Friday
Lake Okeechobee: Florida officials want residents to evacuate the area directly south of Lake Okeechobee. A voluntary evacuation was issued for the cities of South Bay, Lake Harbor, Pahokee, Moore Haven, Clewiston, Belle Glade and Canal Point. Mandatory evacuations for these cities will be put into effect Saturday morning.
Collier County: Mandatory evacuations for Goodland, Everglades City, Chokoloskee, and all mobile homes beginning on Friday
Glades County: Residents in zone A must evacuate by noon Friday. Everyone living in an RV park, mobile home or a building constructed before 1992 must also evacuate.
Flagler County: Mandatory evacuations for nursing homes, all varieties of assisted living facilities, and community residential group homes within coastal and Intracoastal areas and voluntary evacuation for zones A, B, C, F beginning on Thursday; mandatory for Zones A,B,C,F, and substandard housing beginning on Saturday
Lee County: Mandatory evacuations for barrier islands – Bonita Beach, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva, and Pine Island beginning Friday morning
Martin County: Mandatory for barrier islands, manufactured homes, and low-lying areas beginning Saturday
Palm Beach County: Mandatory evacuations for Zone A and B, voluntary for Zone C
Pinellas County: Mandatory evacuations all mobile homes and Zone A
Indian River County: Mandatory evacuations for low lying areas go into effect on Saturday
St. Johns County: Mandatory evacuation go into effect Saturday morning for Zones A and B
Duval County: Residents in Zones A and B and those living in mobile homes and low-lying homes are instructed to evacuate immediately
Nassau County: Mandatory evacations go into effect at 6pm Friday for people who live in zones A, C and F
Citrus County: Mandatory evacuation for residents west of U.S. Highway 19, those living one and a half miles east of U.S. 19, Crystal River residents, residents living in low-lying areas, and residents living in mobile homes, manufactured homes and all unsafe structures.
Hernando County: Mandatory evacuation for coastal zones A and B and mobile homes countywide.
Hendry County: Mandatory evaciation for Clewiston, Hookers Point, Harlem, Flaghole, Montura Ranch Estates, and communities within the Mid-County MSBU which incudes Ladeca, Pioneer Plantation and Leon-Dennis Subdivision. resiednts in no-slab build homes, mobile homes trailers and RVs are under voluntary evacuation.
Sarasota County: People living in evacuation Zone A are to leave between 2pm Friday and 8pm Saturday.
Pasco County: Mandatory evacuation for residents who live west of U.S. 19, north of Fox Hollow, west of Little Rd and special needs residents throughout the county.
St. Lucie County: Voluntary evacuations
DeSoto County: Voluntary evacuation for people in low-lying/flood prine areas and residents living in mobile homes and RV parks
Charlotte County: Voluntary evacuations on Don Pedro Island, Knight Island, Little Gasparilla Island, Gasparilla Island, Manasota Key and those living in mobile homes
Okeechobee County: Voluntary evacuations of low-lying areas prone to flooding
Volusia County: Voluntary evacuations of residents in beachside, low-lying areas and in RV, mobile or manufactured homes.
Polk County: Voluntary evacuation for residents in manufactured homes and flood-prone areas
Hillsborough County: Voluntary evacuations for residents in Zone A who are registered for special needs shelters staring 8am Friday.
Manatee County: Voluntary evacuations for Zone A
Highlands county: Voluntary evacuation for residents who live in low-lying areas and manufactured mobile homes.
Georgia ordered the evacuation of the state’s coastal areas. It applies to all areas east of Interstate 95, including the city of Savannah.
The above map shows the counties in Florida that currently have mandatory or voluntary evacuations. Note that evacuations may only pertain to certain residents or areas within the county
Towns to the south of Lake Okeechobee are under evacuation over fears that the dam could overflow
The governor of Georgia has also ordered the evacuations of the state’s coastal areas, including the city of Savannah
The latest forecasts show Hurricane Irma hitting Miami Sunday evening and then travelling directly up the state to Georgia
As of Friday, Irma was battering the northeast coast of Cuba, on a northwestern track that will see it pass the Bahamas as well
More than half of Florida is either on hurricane warning or hurricane watch in relation to Irma
The hurricane as of 12:15pm on Friday, as seen from radar satellite. The hurricane weakened to a Category 4 storm overnight
Both Florida and Georgia were seeing traffic jams of people trying to flee the hurricane Friday afternoon
At a Friday morning press conference, his message grew even more dire.
‘We’re running out of time. The storm is almost here. If you are in an evacuation storm you need to go now,’ he said.
He added: ‘This is a catastrophic storm that our state has never seen. We can rebuild your home but we can’t rebuild your life. Protecting life is our absolute top priority. Our number one priority is protecting everyone’s life. Everyone’s life is important. No resource or expense will be spared to protect families.’
While current projects show the storm hitting Miami and then going up the state’s east coast towards Florida, Scott said that all Floridians needed to prepare because the storm’s so large and powerful that it will cause serious winds and storm surge on both coasts.
‘It is wider than our entire state and could cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast. Regardless of which coast you live on, be prepared to evacuate,’ Scott said.
He ordered all state offices, schools, colleges and universities to close from Friday until Monday to free up space for evacuation shelters and staging. Most school districts and universities had already voluntarily agreed to close due to the looming arrival of Hurricane Irma over the weekend – but many school districts and colleges in north central and northwest Florida had remained open.
Boarded up stores are seen in preparation of Hurricane Irma during a mandatory evacuation in Miami Beach, Florida, on Friday
Business owners left less-than-polite messages for the incoming storm
A strip club is boarded up in preparation of Hurricane Irma during a mandatory evacuation in Miami Beach, Florida on Friday
Tourists wait with their luggage as they prepare to leave in advance of Hurricane Irma during a mandatory evacuation in Miami Beach, Florida on Friday
A popular tourist area of South Beach is deserted during a mandatory evacuation in advance of Hurricane Irma in Miami Beach, Florida on Friday
Hundreds of people gather in an emergency shelter at the Miami-Dade County Fair Expo Center in Miami, Florida on Friday
Anthony Exposito and Cindy Varahona buy plywood for shutters at a Home Depot in Miami, Florida on September 8, 2017, ahead of Hurricane Irma
Oscar Villanueva ties plywood sheets to his car outside a Home Depot in Miami, Florida on September 8, 2017, ahead of Hurricane Irma
Robert Johnson fills gas containers at a gas station in Miami, Florida on September 8, 2017, ahead of Hurricane Irma
Jessica Cespedes and Nick Cespedes pack their vehicle with items as they evacuate their condo since the area is in a flood zone of Miami on Friday
‘Floridians are strong and resilient. In times like this we band together and help each other. We will continue working around the clock to help you prepare and after the storm we’ll be here to lift each other up and recover. We will make it through this together. Florida is an amazing melting pot of loving people,’ Scott said.
Gas shortages and gridlock plagued the evacuations, turning normally simple trips into tests of will. Interstates 75 and 95 north were bumper-to-bumper, while very few cars and tractor-trailers drove on the south lanes.
Floridians fleeing Hurricane Irma have turned Atlanta’s freeways into a ribbon of red neon brake lights, with traffic in some spots barely moving.
Thousands of the evacuees have been funneled to the city, since so many them are heading north on Interstate 75 straight to Atlanta.
Some ended up at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which opened its vast camp grounds to anyone trying to escape Irma.
It took 21 hours for Suzanne Pallot of Miami to reach Atlanta Thursday, in an SUV packed with four other people, their luggage and two cats.
After a night at a relative’s house, she heard weather forecasts predicting tropical storm force winds for Atlanta on Monday. So the group decided Friday to keep moving, this time to Memphis, Tennessee.
Manny Zuniga left his home in Miami at midnight Thursday, planning to drive through the night to avoid the traffic gridlock that he’d seen on television. It still took him 12 hours to get 230 miles to Orlando – a trip that normally takes four hours. Zuniga is headed for a relative’s house in Arkansas with his wife, two children, two dogs and a ferret.
‘We’re getting out of this state,’ he said, filling up the gas tank of his tightly-packed SUV in Orlando. ‘Irma is going to take all of Florida.’
Mari and Neal Michaud loaded their two children and dog into their small sport-utility vehicle and left their home near Cocoa Beach about 10am, bound for an impromptu vacation in Washington, D.C.
Using a phone app and calls to search for fuel along the way, they finally arrived at a convenience store that had gasoline nearly five hours later. They said the 60-mile trip up Interstate 95 should have taken an hour.
‘There was no gas and it’s gridlock. People are stranded on the sides of the highway,’ Mari said. ‘It’s 92 degrees out and little kids are out on the grass on the side of the road. No one can help them.’
Florida Governor Rick Scott warned that all of the state’s 20 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate as Hurricane Irma bears down for a direct hit on the southern US state
Dogs sit inside their cages as hundreds of people gather in a pet-friendly emergency shelter at the Miami-Dade County Fair Expo Center in Miami, Florida, September 8, 2017, ahead of Hurricane Irma
Christina Grimann, of Germany, was hoping to go on a cruise out of Miami, but now she is headed to Atlanta, GA to escape Hurricane Irma. At Miami International Airport, the last flights will be this afternoon with the airport closing tonight at 6pm. Most travelers are taking flights to anywhere they can find
U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion is shown with shutters on the windows after a mandatory evacuation order went into effect on the barrier island of Palm Beach on Friday
The historic Mar-a-Lago is sandwiched on a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and an intercoastal waterway
Traffic rolls at a crawl on the northbound lanes of Florida’s Turnpike near the intersection of I-75 in Wildwood on Friday
A traveler looks at a monitor listing canceled flights at Miami International Airport on Friday
A worker trims branches from trees near power lines in a downtown neighborhood in Orlando, Florida in preparation for Irma on Friday
Mang Don Man, of Miami, attends to her seven-month-old baby Vung Vaang Nuam as they eat lunch at a Red Cross shelter set up at North Miami Beach Senior High School on Friday
People at a Red Cross shelter set up at North Miami Beach Senior High School eat lunch on Friday
Noel Marsden said he, his girlfriend, her son and their dog left Pembroke Pines north of Miami with plans to ride out Irma in Savannah, only to find the city was also shutting down because of Irma. Marsden isn’t sure where they’ll all end up.
‘I’ve got a buddy in Atlanta and a buddy in Charlotte. We’ll wind up one of those two places because there are not hotels, I can tell you that,’ he said.
The governor said people fleeing could drive slowly in the shoulder lane on highways. He hasn’t reversed the southbound lanes because he said they were needed to deliver gas and supplies.
The Homeland Security Department is temporarily waiving federal restrictions on foreign ships’ transportation of cargo in order to help distribute fuel to states and territories affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
In a statement Friday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said, ‘This is a precautionary measure to ensure we have enough fuel to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure.’ The seven-day waiver specifically affects shipments of refined products, such as gasoline, in hurricane-affected areas.
The Jones Act prohibits such shipments between U.S. points aboard foreign vessels. The last such waiver was in December 2012, for petroleum products delivered after Hurricane Sandy.
Above, some of Key West’s famous roosters being evacuated during the storm
A person stands on a lifeguard stand at an empty South Beach on Friday in Miami Beach, Florida
St Johns County, Florida residents wait for the arrival of sandbags at Mills Field early Friday morning in Jacksonville, Florida
Customers buy supplies and wood to secure their property in preparation of Hurricane Irma early Friday in Miami, Florida
Florida residents flee Hurricane Irma as traffic backs up on I-75 at its intersection with the Florida Turnpike on Thursday
Boarded up buildings on normally bustling South Beach are shown on Friday, in Miami Beach, Florida
Heavy traffic traveling north bound on Interstate 75 moves slowly, as a major evacuation has begun in preparation for Hurricane Irma, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Forrest Park, south of Atlanta
Luis Garcia, right, packs a car that he and five other members of his extended family will use to evacuate north from their home in Miami Beach, Fla, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017
epa06192094 A business owner boards up windows of a restaurant ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Irma in downtown Miami, Florida, USA, 08 September 2017
Orlando city employees and volunteers fill sandbags for residents as they prepare for Hurricane Irma on Friday
The above graphic shows Hurricane Irma compared to 1992’s devastating Hurricane Andrew, the costliest hurricane in Florida’s history
Airline seats out of Florida were in short supply as well but American, United and Delta all said Thursday that they were adding extra flights in the next couple days.
CURRENT HURRICANE WARNINGS IN PLACE:
- Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach
- Florida Keys
- Lake Okeechobee
- Florida Bay
- Southeastern Bahamas
- Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, and Villa Clara
- Central Bahamas
- Northwestern Bahama
An armed man caused extra panic and delays at Miami airport on Thursday night after he was shot by police – prompting the evacuation of an entire terminal.
Officials across Florida, meanwhile, opened shelters for people who chose not to leave town. Florida’s emergency management division says nearly 6,000 people are already huddling in shelters ahead of Hurricane Irma. Most of the evacuees are gathered in shelters in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, where catastrophic Category 4 winds are expected to hit this weekend.
Miami- Dade County planned to open 43 shelters with room for more than 100,000 people by Friday night.
That includes the homeless. The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust says more than 1,000 people live on the streets in Miami, and only 300 have been evacuated so far. Many are willingly moving to shelters, but some have to be detained using the ‘Baker Act’, a law which allows officers to hospitalize people with mental illness against their will.
The Associated Press was there as Miami police handcuffed one man to evacuate a waterfront park. Another man resisted until police threatened to hospitalize him instead.
Ron Book with the homeless trust says anybody who stays on the streets during this storm is ‘going to die.’
Evacuation orders are multiplying by the hour in Florida. Currently the entire southern tip of Florida is under evacuation, and those orders continue county by county almost all the way up the east coast.
Several small communities around Lake Okeechobee in the south-central part of Florida were added to the evacuation list because the lake may overflow, the governor said – but he added that engineers expect the protective dike around the lake to hold up.
Some residents in downtown Miami were also advised to leave, if they leave near one of the city’s two dozen construction cranes.
Construction sites across Irma’s potential path in Florida are being locked down to prevent building materials, tools and debris from becoming flying missiles in hurricane winds. The horizontal arms of the tall tower cranes, however, will remain loose despite the potential danger of collapse. City officials say they cannot be tied down or moved. Miami officials say it would take two weeks to move the cranes.
On Thursday, the governor of Georgia also ordered the evacuation of the state’s coastal areas, including the large city of Savannah – about 540,000 people. However, just where the storm will enter Georgia is to be determined. Forecasts show it could enter the state Monday anywhere from the Atlantic coast to the Alabama state line. The last time Georgia was struck by a hurricane of force Category 3 or higher happened in 1898.
A man bikes past a restaurant boarded up in preparation for hurricane Irma in Miami, Florida on Friday
People line up to refill propane during preparations for hurricane Irma in Miami, Florida on Friday
People line up to get gas during preparations for hurricane Irma in Miami, Florida on Friday
Cars line up in long lines waiting to get sandbags in preparation for Hurricane Irma on Friday
Supplies are loaded into a truck at the Sea Esta mobil home park during preparations for Hurricane Irma in Hallandale, Florida on Friday
People load up a car with supplies at the Sea Esta mobil home park during preparations for Hurricane Irma in Hallandale, Florida on Friday
A house is boarded up at the Sea Esta mobil home park during preparations for Hurricane Irma in Hallandale, Florida on Friday
Customers buy plywood sheets to protect their homes at a Home Depot in Florida City, Fla., Friday, Sept. 8, 2017
Traffic rolls at a crawl along the northbound lanes of Florida’s Turnpike near the intersection of Interstate 75 in Wildwood, Florida on Friday
Ryan Kaye loads sandbags into his truck at a makeshift filling station provided by the county as protection ahead of Hurricane Irma on Friday in Palm Coast, Florida
As additional evacuations continue to be announced, Irma could potentially create one of the largest mass exoduses in the country’s history.
Forecasters warn the storm could hit anywhere from Florida to North Carolina over the next few days. The most severe impacts will be felt on the eastern side of Florida, including Miami, West Palm Beach, Melbourne, Daytona Beach and Jacksonville.
AccuWeather founder, Dr Joel N Myers, said there was no way the U.S. was going to avoid another catastrophic weather event.
‘There will be massive damage in Florida. (It will be) the worst single hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992,’ he said said. ‘It’s a monster hurricane out there – it’s bringing along with it something to be feared.
According to Credit Suisse, the storm has the potential to do $125billion worth of damage.
NASA has secured Kennedy Space Center and SpaceX launched an unmanned rocket for an experimental flight. Kennedy closed its doors to all nonessential staff and a crew of about 120 people will ride out the storm on site.
Most of the critical buildings at Kennedy are designed to withstand gusts of up to 135 mph. Irma’s wind could exceed that if it reaches Cape Canaveral.
Irma poses a bigger menace to power supplies in Florida than Hurricane Harvey did in Texas because Irma is packing near 200 mile-per-hour winds that could down power lines, close nuclear plants and threats to leave millions of homes and businesses in the dark for weeks.
A business owner boards up windows of a restaurant ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Irma in downtown Miami on Friday
A boarded up building on normally bustling South Beach is shown on Friday in Miami Beach, Florida
Customers at a Home Depot buy wood to secure their property in anticipation of Hurricane Irma early Friday in Miami, Florida
Customers at a Home Depot in South Miami Dade buy building materials to secure their property in anticipation of Hurricane Irma early Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 in Miami, Florida
Hanz Paez, left, and Cirous Amiri, right buy wood at a Home Depot in South Miami Dade to secure their property in anticipation of Hurricane Irma early Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 in Miami, Florida
Amy Nacollari, left, greets her friend Mandy Varna at a bus stop in Miami Beach, Florida, Friday, September 8, 2017
Leonel Geronimo, stuffs food into his suitcase as he and others wait for a bus in anticipation of Hurricane Irma in Miami Beach, Florida, Friday, September 8, 2017
Liz Hankins and James Kiernan, of North Lauderdale, fill trash bags with sand on Pompano Beach, Florida in preparation for Hurricane Irma on Friday
Gretchen, left, and Ron Levine of ‘A Paw Above’ in Hollywood, Florida, take care of 20 dogs and 21 cats as they have been inundated with pet care requests by people fleeing Hurricane Irma on Friday
And another concern is two nuclear power plants in the storm’s track.
Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point and St. Lucie plants, which can supply power to almost two million homes, are under threat.
Spokesman Peter Robbins said: ‘Based on the current track, we would expect severe weather in Florida starting Saturday, meaning we would potentially shut down before that point.’
The company, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc, is watching the weather and would adjust any plans as necessary.
It can take more than 24 hours to shut down a reactor, so the decision will have to be made well in advance.
DEVASTATION CAUSED BY HURRICANE ANDREW IN 1992
Hurricane Andrew was a Category Five hurricane that struck the Bahamas and Florida in mid-August 1992.
It was the most destructive hurricane to ever hit Florida, and the costliest to the United States until Katrina in 2005.
The storm sustained wind speeds as high as 165 mph and passed directly through Miami-Dade County.
It stripped many homes of all but their foundations, and destroyed more than 63,500 homes.
The storm cost a total of $26.5 billion in damages and left 65 people dead.
Hurricane Andrew was a Category Five hurricane that struck the Bahamas and Florida in mid-August 1992. Pictured is the devastation it left
But bosses are confident the power plants can weather the 185mph storm, as they both have a track record of surviving hurricanes.
The National Hurricane Center predicted Irma would remain at category 4 for the next day or two as it passes between Cuba and the Bahamas.
The last major hurricane – a storm with winds of at least 111 mph – to hit Florida was Wilma in 2005. Its eye cut through the state’s southern third as it packed winds of 120 mph. Five people died. Andrew slammed into Florida as a Category 5 storm in 1992 and at the time was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history with damages of $26.5 billion.
With winds that peaked at 185 mph, Irma was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.
Irma’s weakening comes at a cost. When that happened, its hurricane-force wind field expanded greatly, to about 110 miles wide, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director at the private service Weather Underground.
‘It’s a big storm,’ Masters said. ‘It’s not as big as Katrina, but it is definitely a large hurricane now.’
FEMA chief Brock Long said people in Florida and other states must heed evacuation orders as the Category 4 hurricane surges towards the US after causing death and destruction in the Caribbean.
‘Bottom line is the majority of people along the coast have never experienced a major hurricane like this. It will be truly devastating,’ he told CNN.
‘The entire southeastern United States better wake up and pay attention.’
President Donald Trump says Hurricane Irma ‘is a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential.’
In a video posted to Facebook, the president urges those in Irma’s path to be vigilant and heed the recommendations of all government officials.
Trump says his administration is doing all it can to help with disaster preparations, and the U.S. ‘stands united’ to address the storm.
He says, ‘We will endure and come back stronger than ever before.’
Trump also spoke briefly to reporters Friday before boarding Marine One to travel to Camp David for the weekend. He told reporters, ‘Hopefully everything will go well.’
After struggling to hear the shouted questions from reporters, he says that while the storm is ‘a really bad one,’ the U.S. is prepared for the dangerous major hurricane heading toward Florida.
Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach – the unofficial Southern White House – sits in the path of the storm.
US Air Force Reserve weather officer Maj. Jeremy DeHart flew through the eye of Irma at 10,000 feet Wednesday and through Hurricane Harvey just before it hit Texas last month.
Above, destruction seen in Puerto Rico after the storm passed north of the island on Thursday
Three people died in Puerto Rico after the storm scratched the island. Above, a scene of Puerto Rico after the storm
Palm trees blow in the gale-force winds as Hurricane Irma hit Haiti on Thursday
Fronds are blown off palm trees and streets are flooded with storm surge in the Dominican Republic on Thursday
Marine firefighters from the French city of Marseille board a plane to help the storm ravaged French Caribbean
In this undated photo provided by the British Ministry of Defence on Friday taken from a Royal Navy helicopter, a RLC Mexeflote approaches Sandy Bay Village beach, in the British oversees territory of Anguilla loaded with the 2 JCBs, 1 flatbed lorry, fork lift truck, BV 206 multi terrain vehicle, a Land Rover and a mobile generator
Hurricane Irma destroyed 90 percent of the tiny island of Barbuda (above) when it made landfall early on Wednesday. The Caribbean island was reduced to rubble, according to its Prime Minister Gaston Browne
Destruction: Dozens of cars were thrown around the hotel car park by the 185mph winds which tore through St Martin
This Wednesday photo shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in St. Martin
He said Irma’s intensity set it apart from other storms.
‘Spectacular is the word that keeps coming to mind. Pictures don’t do it justice. Satellite images can’t do it justice,’ DeHart said.
The five living former U.S. presidents said Thursday they would team up to create the ‘One America Appeal’ to raise money for storm recovery as Texas and Louisiana seek to regroup from Harvey and Florida and the Atlantic coast brace for Hurricane Irma.
The hurricane recovery effort was announced by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
Online donations can be made at OneAmericaAppeal.org.
President Trump tweeted his support of the plan: ‘We will confront ANY challenge, no matter how strong the winds or high the water. I’m proud to stand with Presidents for #OneAmericaAppeal.’
As people along the Atlantic coast anxiously watched the behemoth, Irma battered the northern Caribbean, killing at least 24 people and leaving thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees.
Hurricane Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday and Cuba evacuated tourists from beachside resorts as the fearsome storm continued a rampage through the Caribbean that has killed at least 24 people, with Florida in its sights.
Nine deaths were reported in the French Caribbean (St Martin and St Barthelemy), three in Puerto Rico, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands, four in the British Virgin Islands, two on the Dutch side of St. Maarten, one on Barbuda and one on Anguilla.
Waves as high as 20 feet were expected in the Turks and Caicos. Communications went down as the storm slammed into the islands, and the extent of the devastation was unclear.
Irma rolled past the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday and spun along the northern coast of Cuba on Friday morning. Thousands of tourists were evacuated from low-lying keys off the Cuban coast Thursday in anticipation of 20-foot storm surges. Buses loaded with tourists began streaming out of Santa Maria, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and other keys dotted with all-inclusive resorts.
The Maersk Line container ship Sealand Illinois heads out to sea after leaving the Port of Miami on Friday. The ship is headed to Portugal, according to a marine traffic website
A lone cyclist rides by The Carlyle Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida on Friday
British tourists wait for a ride as they leave ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Irma in Miami, Florida on Friday
A customer watches news reports at a French restaurant ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Irma in Miami, Florida, on Friday
Residents in Jacksonville County, Florida shovel bags of sand on Friday, ahead of Hurricane Irma
All residents of the area were under mandatory evacuation orders from the Cuban government, which was moving tens of thousands of people from vulnerable coastline.
French, British and Dutch military authorities rushed aid to a devastated string of Caribbean islands where at least 11 people were dead and thousands homeless. Warships and planes were sent with food, water and troops after the hurricane smashed homes, schools and roads, laying waste to some of the world’s most beautiful and exclusive tourist destinations.
The first islands hit by the storm were scenes of terrible destruction.
The cafes and clothing shops of the picturesque seaside village of Marigot were submerged in brown floodwaters. The toll could rise because rescue teams had yet to get a complete look at the damage.
Looting was reported in St. Martin. Annick Girardin, minister for France’s overseas territories, described on BFM television Friday ‘scenes of pillaging’ of televisions as well as food and water. She lamented ‘how people can take advantage of the distress of others’ and said it’s essential for police to restore order and ensure urgent care for victims.
The U.S. Consulate General in Curacao said it believes about 6,000 Americans are stranded on St. Martin. It said it was working with the U.S. and other governments to try to figure out how to get the Americans off the island either by air or boat. Frantic Americans were calling home to relatives to try to get them off the island ahead of Hurricane Jose.
The hospital on St. Thomas was destroyed and dozens of patients were being evacuated to St. Croix and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Coast Guard. Local official said a U.S. Navy hospital ship was arriving as early as Friday to care for unknown numbers of injured and two Air Force C-130s transport planes were bringing in food and water.
Power lines and towers were toppled, leaves were stripped off plants and trees, a water and sewage treatment plants was heavily damaged and the harbor was in ruins, along with hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses. Gov. Kenneth Mapp imposed a 6 p.m. curfew.
The primary focus for now is ‘making sure people have meals, water and shelter,’ Mapp said. ‘An event of this magnitude is very chilling.’
Irma also slammed the French island of St. Barts, tearing off roofs and knocking out electricity in the high-end tourist destination.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said 100,000 food rations were sent to St. Barts and St. Martin, the equivalent of four days of supplies.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the storm ’caused wide-scale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses.’
‘There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world,’ he said.
Residents line up in Dania Beach, Florida on Thursday to fill up sandbags in preparation for Hurricane Irma
People walk past empty shelves where bread is normally sold in a Walmart store ahead of Hurricane Irma’s expected arrival in North Miami Beach
Miami Beach was deserted on Thursday after a mandatory evacuation was ordered ahead of Irma
An armed man caused extra panic and delays at Miami airport on Thursday night after he was shot by police – prompting the evacuation (above) of an entire terminal
Traffic was banked up in Pasco County, Florida late on Thursday night as residents evacuated the state
Big waves smashed a dozen homes into rubble in the Dominican fishing community of Nagua, but work crews said all the residents had left before the storm. Officials said 11,200 people in all had evacuated vulnerable areas, while 55,000 soldiers had been deployed to help the cleanup.
In Haiti, two people were injured by a falling tree, a national roadway was blocked by debris and roofs were torn from houses along the northern coast but there were no immediate reports of deaths. Officials warned that could change as Irma continued to lash Haiti, where deforested hillsides are prone to devastating mudslides that have wiped out entire neighborhoods of precariously built homes in flood zones.
‘We are vulnerable. We don’t have any equipment to help the population,’ Josue Alusma, mayor of the northern city of Port de Paix, said on Radio Zenith FM.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he would go to the islands as soon as the weather permits it.
On Barbuda, nearly every building was damaged when the hurricane’s core crossed almost directly over the island early Wednesday. About 60 percent of its roughly 1,400 residents were left homeless, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.
Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, said Irma could easily prove to be the costliest storm in U.S. history.
‘Take it seriously, because this is the real deal,’ said Maj. Jeremy DeHart, a U.S. Air Force Reserve weather officer who flew through the eye of Irma at 10,000 feet.
Farther out in the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose, a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds, posed a potential threat for Saturday to some of the same islands ravaged by Irma.