“This Is As Real As It Gets”: Millions Warned To Evacuate Florida As Hurricane Irma Approaches

As Hurricane Irma closes in on the Florida coast, authorities in the state have urged more than 5.6 million residents to evacuate while they can, warning that Irma’s current trajectory will lead to a path of destruction and devastation when it makes landfall.

Irma was temporarily downgraded to a Category 4 storm, but warm waters between Cuba and The Bahamas have caused its wind speed to increase, and it has once again been upgraded to a Category 5, the highest classification, with winds exceeding 252km/h.

Meteorologist Dennis Feltgren of the National Hurricane Centre issued a dire warning, telling Florida residents “this is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” and waning that Irma will likely span both coasts. “Everybody’s going to feel this one,” he added.

Florida governor Rick Scott said that those who could not evacuate by midnight Friday, local time, were urged to go to their local shelters, saying:

“We don’t want anybody on these roads when the storm’s coming through. So we’re telling people in those counties in the southern part of the state: If you’re on the road by midnight, don’t get on the road. We have shelters in your community. Go to those shelters. I mean, you go to your family, go to friends, go to those shelters. But we don’t want people on the road when the storm starts to hit.”

The National Weather Service sent out a fairly unambiguous warning on Hurricane Irma, saying “THIS IS AS REAL AS IT GETS – NOWHERE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL BE SAFE – YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO EVACUATE.”

The Weather Service have waned that the incoming storm surge may lead to eight to twelve feet of inundation along the south-west coast of the state.

The evacuation effort has around major urban areas like Miami has been hampered by large amounts of traffic on highways and gasoline shortages, with traffic backed up as far away as Atlanta. Around 1700 of Florida Highway Patrol officers have been called in to work 12-hour shifts to assist the evacuation.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also made a statement, saying that is is “continuing to monitor the situation closely” and “continuing to make urgent enquiries to determine whether any Australians in the United States or Caribbean have been affected by Hurricane Irma or the earthquake in Mexico.”

Hurricane Irma has already devastated large parts of the Caribbean, and the death toll currently stands at 22