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Mandatory evacuation of Florida Keys begins as planes and ships told to steer clear and US Navy base tells 5,000 personnel to get out of town before Hurricane Irma hits the US east coast

'This has potential to be a major event for the East Coast': Hurricane Irma is upgraded to powerful Category 4 storm as Florida is declared a state of emergency

Florida Keys evacuated before Hurricane Irma hits

  • U.S. National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Irma is packing winds of 185mph as it crashes into Caribbean
  • That makes the hurricane - which is the size of France - the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean
  • It has already hit Barbuda this morning but is now quickly heading towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
  • From there, it will continue through to the Bahamas, Cuba and possibly onto Florida and north into the US
  • Mandatory evacuation is expected to be issued for the Florida Keys later today as officials tell people to leave

People living in the Florida Keys are fleeing their homes ahead of an expected mandatory evacuation order as Hurricane Irma crashes into the US and Caribbean.

Throughout Florida, officials are preparing for potential disaster as forecasts suggest the Keys could take the country's first blow from the Category 5 storm.

The hurricane - which is the size of France - is the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, with 185mph winds. 

'This is not one to fool around with,' Cammy Clark, spokeswoman for Monroe County, which contains the Keys, said. 

Mandatory evacuation is expected to be issued for the Florida Keys later today as officials tell people to leave as Hurricane Irma heads for the island chain

Mandatory evacuation is expected to be issued for the Florida Keys later today as officials tell people to leave as Hurricane Irma heads for the island chain

Hurricane Irma strengthened into a powerful Category 5 storm on Tuesday. Above, a satellite view of the storm on Tuesday

Hurricane Irma strengthened into a powerful Category 5 storm on Tuesday. Above, a satellite view of the storm on Tuesday

Storm coming: The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday, churning along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend

Storm coming: The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday, churning along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend

The county's Emergency Operations Center director, Martin Senterfitt, said Irma presents a 'worst case scenario' for the Keys. 

He added: 'We're emphatically telling people you must evacuate, you can not afford to stay on an island with a Category 5 hurricane coming at you. 

'Most of this island chain is only three to five feet above sea level. With the surges we're expecting this is not the place to be.' 

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay, meanwhile, said: 'This storm is a killer. 

'Please take your family and leave. We are going to get it, just don't know if it is a partial or a head on strike. Hurricane force winds and flooding will occur. Be safe. Pray for everyone please.'

All commercial flights from Key West International Airport have been cancelled until further notice, with planes and ships being told to stay away from the area.    

It's still unclear where the storm will turn once it gets closer to the U.S. later this week. It could go west into the Gulf of Mexico or east into the Atlantic, or make landfall in Georgia, Florida or the Carolinas  

It's still unclear where the storm will turn once it gets closer to the U.S. later this week. It could go west into the Gulf of Mexico or east into the Atlantic, or make landfall in Georgia, Florida or the Carolinas  

Keys officials are expected to announce a full evacuation today.

The US Navy has already ordered the evacuation of 5,000 of its sailors, contractors and civilian workers from Naval Air Station Key West.

The Navy said about 50 people will stay on to keep the base functioning at a basic level. 

Planes, helicopters and submarines are being moved away the storm, CNN has reported.  

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who plans to fly to the Keys today, said a hospital in the island chain would have its patients evacuated by air.     

Hurricane Irma is now so powerful it is registering on devices designed to detect earthquakes.

Scientists started picking up background noise from the storm on their earthquake-detecting seismometers as Irma strengthened into a Category 5 storm yesterday.

Winds causing trees to move and crashing ocean waves caused by Irma is what made it possible for the earthquake detectors to pick up the storm. 

Irma is currently roaring toward the northeast Caribbean on a path that could take it to the US - causing thousands to start panic buying and preparing to evacuate in Florida.    

Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands  are already stocking up on supplies for the hurricane, which is expected to hit between Wednesday and Thursday 

Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands  are already stocking up on supplies for the hurricane, which is expected to hit between Wednesday and Thursday 

Some people waited up to eight hours to check in, shop and leave a Costco in North Miami on Tuesday in preparation for Hurricane Irma

Some people waited up to eight hours to check in, shop and leave a Costco in North Miami on Tuesday in preparation for Hurricane Irma

Meanwhile three Disney Dream cruises have been cancelled amid worries the storm will head north into Florida - raising fears Disney World could close as it did in 2016 during Hurricance Matthew. 

Walt Disney World Resort said it allows for customers to cancel or reschedule their holidays if there is a hurricane warning but the company told the Orlando Sentinel the policy 'does not apply to certain special events or dining experiences'.

Universal Orlando Resort, meanwhile, is operating normal but keeping an eye on weather reports.

Seaworld Orlando also has a policy in place to repay fees in the event of a hurricane.     

President Donald Trump yesterday declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Federal funding will therefore be available for emergency measures including evacuations and coastal fortifications. 

Four other storms have had winds that strong in the overall Atlantic region, but they have been in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico where the usually warmer waters fuel tropical cyclones. 

Experts say Irma's strength is a result of unusually warm water for that part of the Atlantic. 

The center said there was a growing possibility that the storm's effects could be felt in Florida later this week and over the weekend, though it was still too early to be sure of its future track, adding: 'Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place.'

Shoppers at Costco in North Miami waited up to eight hours for water and essentials in preparation for Hurricane Irma on Tuesday

Shoppers at Costco in North Miami waited up to eight hours for water and essentials in preparation for Hurricane Irma on Tuesday

So far, a state of emergency has been called in the state and evacuations are under way in the Florida Keys. Schools have also cancelled until further notice.

People in the Florida Keys were putting up hurricane shutters and wooden boards on homes and businesses yesterday.

Trucks are currently hauling away boats and people are packing in preparation for leaving. Houses in the Keys stand at sea level, with parts of the main road to the Florida mainland going dangerously low.

In addition to Irma, Tropical Storm Jose has now formed behind it in the open Atlantic far from land. Jose is the 10th tropical storm of the season. It has maximum sustained winds of 40 mph and is about 1505 miles east of the Lesser Antilles.  

Jackie Kreuter, 56, of Gulfport, Florida, tosses pool furniture in his pool on Tuesday so it doesn't fly around during the impending hurricane. Kreuter, along with her mother, husband, sister, daughter, grandson, five dogs and a bird are boarding up their home and business and leaving for Ocala to get out of Hurricane Irma's way

Jackie Kreuter, 56, of Gulfport, Florida, tosses pool furniture in his pool on Tuesday so it doesn't fly around during the impending hurricane. Kreuter, along with her mother, husband, sister, daughter, grandson, five dogs and a bird are boarding up their home and business and leaving for Ocala to get out of Hurricane Irma's way

Residents purchase water at BJ Wholesale in preparation for Hurricane Irma on Tuesday in Miami, Florida

Residents purchase water at BJ Wholesale in preparation for Hurricane Irma on Tuesday in Miami, Florida

Vehicles line up to get fuel at a Tom Thumb gas station in Shalimar, Florida on Tuesday

Vehicles line up to get fuel at a Tom Thumb gas station in Shalimar, Florida on Tuesday

Irma's center was expected to move near or over the northern Leeward Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, the hurricane center said. The eye was then expected to pass about 50 miles from Puerto Rico late Wednesday. 

Authorities warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches of rain, cause landslides and flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet. 

Government officials began evacuations and urged people to finalize all preparations as shelves emptied out across islands including Puerto Rico.

'The decisions that we make in the next couple of hours can make the difference between life and death,' Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. 'This is an extremely dangerous storm.' 

WHEN WILL IRMA HIT? 

Leeward Islands: Late Tuesday to Wednesday. Tropical storm-force winds start later Tuesday 

Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands: Wednesday to early Thursday

Dominican Republic/Haiti: Thursday to early Friday

Turks and Caicos: Late Thursday to Friday

Bahamas: Friday to this weekend

Cuba: Friday to this weekend

Southeast United States: This weekend into early next week, beginning in south Florida on Saturday

                                               - Weather.com

Residents on the U.S. East Coast were urged to monitor the storm's progress in case it should turn northward toward Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.

'This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of (Hurricane) Harvey,' Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.  

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared the state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state on Monday after some forecasts showed the powerful storm could be headed for the East Coast. 

'Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared. I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma's path - potentially impacting millions of Floridians,' Scott said. 

'Today, given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm, I have declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and make sure resources are dispersed to local communities as we get prepared for this storm.' 

He also ordered the suspension of road tolls across the state and activated 100 members of the Florida National Guard to prepare for Hurricane Irma.

Scott says in a statement that the initial 100 troops will be stationed throughout the state. Some 7,000 National Guard members will report to duty Friday, when the storm could be bearing down on Florida.

Cyber School Supply employee Christopher Rodriguez installs wood panels on windows in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico on Tuesday

Cyber School Supply employee Christopher Rodriguez installs wood panels on windows in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico on Tuesday

John Pepper of Miami waits to purchase plywood at Home Depot to cover his french doors in preparation for Hurricane Irma on Monday

John Pepper of Miami waits to purchase plywood at Home Depot to cover his french doors in preparation for Hurricane Irma on Monday

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday for all 67 counties in his state 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday for all 67 counties in his state 

Scott says tolls will be suspended to keep traffic flowing as residents begin to evacuate coastal areas in the potential path of the dangerous Category 5 storm.

The governor adds that tolls will remain suspended 'for the duration of the storm's impacts to Florida.' 

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County's mayor says residents and visitors should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach, as soon as Wednesday evening. 

An NFL game to be played between the the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday has also been cancelled.  

Water and basic foodstuffs are already flying off the shelves of some stores in Florida. 

Pablo Rodriguez surveyed the empty water aisle at a Fort Lauderdale Winn Dixie with dismay, saying 'I was hoping to get a few cases.'

The 65-year-old said he would have to try other shops, because 'all the people are stocking up quick.'

Theresa Webster, 60, of Fort Lauderdale had heard water was sold out at Publix but still available at Winn Dixie, but there was none by the time she got there in the afternoon.

She was also stocking up on canned tuna, crackers and bread.

Said Webster: 'I got some water already but I wanted more.'

As of Tuesday morning, Hurricane Irma was gathering speed to the east of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean 

It's still unclear which direction the storm will take as it inches close to the U.S. later this week, but south Florida will no doubt feel some effects of the storm 

It's still unclear which direction the storm will take as it inches close to the U.S. later this week, but south Florida will no doubt feel some effects of the storm 

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are expected to get severe rainfall from Irma 

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are expected to get severe rainfall from Irma 

Hurricane warnings have been in effect for several Caribbean islands since Sunday 

Hurricane warnings have been in effect for several Caribbean islands since Sunday 

By mid-day Monday, many grocery stores across South Florida had been emptied of bottled water and stores were hoping to restock beginning Tuesday morning.

States of emergency were also declared in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands where residents rushed to find last-minute supplies, forming long lines outside supermarkets and gas stations. 

People in Puerto Rico braced for electricity outages after the director of the island's power company predicted that storm damage could leave some areas without electricity for four to six months. But 'some areas will have power (back) in less than a week,' Ricardo Ramos told radio station Notiuno 630 AM. The utility's infrastructure has deteriorated greatly during a decade-long recession, and Puerto Ricans experienced an island wide outage last year.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Hurricane Irma is now a powerful Category 4 storm

  • Hurricane Irma strengthened into a powerful Category 4 storm on Monday
  • Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties
  • Meteorologists had earlier predicted the storm posed a 'serious threat' to the US 
  • Irma grew in intensity as it approached the northeastern Caribbean with winds of 130 mph
  • It is forecast to begin buffeting the region on Tuesday but it is still unclear what path Irma will take as it inches closer to the US 

Hurricane Irma strengthened into a powerful Category 4 storm on Monday forcing Florida to be declared a state of emergency.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared the state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state on Monday after some forecasts showed the powerful storm could be headed for the East Coast.

Meteorologists had earlier predicted the storm posed a 'serious threat' to the US.

'Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared. I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma’s path - potentially impacting millions of Floridians,' Scott said. 

Hurricane Irma strengthened into a powerful Category 4 storm on Monday forcing Florida to be declared a state of emergency

Hurricane Irma strengthened into a powerful Category 4 storm on Monday forcing Florida to be declared a state of emergency

Hurricane Irma now poses a 'serious threat' to the U.S., meteorologists say. Above, the possible tracks the storm could take 

Hurricane Irma now poses a 'serious threat' to the U.S., meteorologists say. Above, the possible tracks the storm could take 

'Today, given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm, I have declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and make sure resources are dispersed to local communities as we get prepared for this storm.' 

Irma grew into a Category 4 storm on Monday as it approached the northeastern Caribbean with winds of 130 mph.

It is forecast to begin buffeting the region on Tuesday and the US National Hurricane Centre said additional strengthening was expected.

Emergency officials warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches of rain, unleash landslides and dangerous flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet as the storm drew closer.

Hurricane watches were posted on Sunday for parts of the Caribbean including Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Monserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Martin, Guadeloupe and the British Virgin Islands. 

The US National Hurricane Center said the center of the storm could near that region late Tuesday and that islands farther north, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, should monitor the progress of the storm and be prepared for Irma possibly to head their direction.

'Irma is a serious threat for the Caribbean islands and United States,' AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said. 

It is still unclear what path Irma will take as it inches closer to the US.

Right now, meteorologists believe there are about three paths the storm could take. It could move out into the Atlantic and completely bi-pass the US, it could hit the Carolinas or it could go south and graze Cuba before hitting the Gulf of Mexico, around the Florida panhandle.

Residents in Florida rushed to stock up on goods with news the hurricane could potentially strike the state

Residents in Florida rushed to stock up on goods with news the hurricane could potentially strike the state

A woman stocked up on bottled water in Florida on Monday as Gov Rick Scott declared a state of emergency due to the hurricane

A woman stocked up on bottled water in Florida on Monday as Gov Rick Scott declared a state of emergency due to the hurricane

A woman looks at empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma

A woman looks at empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma

Workers put boats on dry docks in preparation as Hurricane Irma was upgraded to a Category 4 storm late on Monday

Workers put boats on dry docks in preparation as Hurricane Irma was upgraded to a Category 4 storm late on Monday

'This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey,' Evan Myers, Expert Senior Meteorologist and Chief Operating Officer said.

If it does hit the U.S., it won't be until this weekend, but residents in the southern U.S. shouldn't waste time getting an emergency plan together.

'As we saw just 10 days ago with Harvey, it is important to be ready to evacuate and be prepared with at a minimum, a list of items you would take if you had 30 minute notice or 1 hours notice of 6 hours or a day to evacuate,' Myers said.  

Meanwhile, government workers on the islands of the eastern Caribbean are clearing drains and pruning trees ahead of Irma 

The Antigua and Barbuda weather service said Irma was expected to bring heavy rains, rough surf and high winds. 

Irma is set to hit the northernmost Leeward Islands on Tuesday. Above, a picture of the storm  on Monday

Irma is set to hit the northernmost Leeward Islands on Tuesday. Above, a picture of the storm  on Monday

The storm is expected to pick up speed as it sets its sights on the U.S.  

The storm is expected to pick up speed as it sets its sights on the U.S.  

The National Hurricane Center warned that the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are at risk as well 

The National Hurricane Center warned that the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are at risk as well 

The storm is expected to pick up speed just as it hits the Leeward Islands on Tuesday  

The storm is expected to pick up speed just as it hits the Leeward Islands on Tuesday  

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Hurricane Irma gains strength as it heads across the Atlantic

Antigua's prime minister, Gaston Browne, urged people to take preventative measures in case the storm should keep on its current arc, saying that should include cleaning drains and removing objects that could be sent flying by high winds. Workers began pruning trees and shrubs to reduce chances for branches to tear down power and phone lines.

'The passage of a hurricane is not a matter to be taken lightly, but we must not panic,' Browne said in a statement.

The U.S. hurricane center said Irma had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph Sunday night and some strengthening was expected over the next 48 hours. The storm was centered about 710 miles  east of the Leeward Islands and moving west-southwest at 14 mph.

Puerto Rico's governor, Ricard Rossello, said government agencies in the U.S. territory were prepared to deal with any emergencies caused by the storm.

'We have established protocols for the safety of all,' he said at a news conference, while he also urged islanders to take precautions.

In the Dominican Republic, Public Works Minister Gonzalo Castillo said workers there were clearing away road works and also cleaning out blockages of sewer drains. He said President Danilo Medina would hold a meeting with emergencies agencies Monday to discuss storm preparations. 

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