Tech Nearly 7 million people told to evacuate in Florida and Georgia as Hurricane Irma approaches with 125-mph winds

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Hurricane Irma is one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, and Florida and Georgia are getting ready.

Hurricane Irma Florida play

Hurricane Irma Florida

(REUTERS/Joe Skipper)
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  • Hurricane Irma is barreling toward the US mainland
  • Officials in Florida and Georgia have ordered mandatory evacuations
  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott activated the Florida National Guard
  • Scott said on Friday all 20 million Florida residents should be prepared to evacuate

Hurricane Irma continues to barrel toward Florida, and state officials are already ordering evacuations from areas likely to be hardest-hit when the storm makes landfall.

Irma — one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic — is currently a Category 3 hurricane with maximum wind speeds of 125 mph. The storm has hit several Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico and St. Martin, and comes just weeks after flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey destroyed buildings and neighborhoods in Texas.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered an additional 700,000 residents to evacuate on Saturday morning, bringing the total number of people evacuating to nearly 7 million throughout Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Scott also activated the entire Florida National Guard on Tuesday, calling on all 7,000 members to report for duty on Friday morning. He asked President Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency for Florida to free up federal funding for evacuations and flooding infrastructure, which the president granted.

"Please do not ignore evacuation orders," Scott tweeted on Wednesday. "Remember, we can rebuild your home, not your life." He reiterated this point in multiple news conferences throughout the week.

"Do not sit and wait for #HurricaneIrma to come," Scott continued. "It is EXTREMELY dangerous & deadly- it will cause devastation. GET PREPARED NOW."

Models are predicting that Irma will make a direct hit in the Florida Keys on Sunday, then travel up the state's west coast.

Hurricane-force winds extend about 70 miles in all directions from Irma's center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend 195 miles, according to the National Hurricane Center. Florida's peninsula is only about 140 miles across at its widest, so Irma could engulf the entire state with its powerful winds.

Speaking from Hialeah on Thursday morning, Scott said his biggest concern with Irma is the massive storm surge and flooding.

"This can kill you," he said, noting that Hurricane Andrew — which devastated Florida in 1992 — didn't have a storm surge at all, and that Irma looks much worse than Andrew.

On Friday, Scott warned that all 20 million Floridians should be "prepared to evacuate."

"It is wider than our entire state and could cause major and life-threatening impacts on both coasts, coast to coast," he added.

In a tweet, Scott also said that his administration's top priority is fuel availability, as gas stations in evacuation zones are running out of supplies. The Florida government is also staging supplies, meals, and water at locations around the state.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also issued warnings about the hurricane on Twitter:

Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that he has already deployed crisis professionals to assist in Florida.

"Just like in Texas, the response to Irma is going to take all levels of government and the whole community," Long said in a statement. "This has the potential to be a catastrophic storm."

Evacuations

Officials in Monroe County, where the Florida Keys are located, ordered a mandatory evacuation for all residents on Wednesday morning. The county's schools also closed, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Miami began ordering evacuations in vulnerable areas — like Miami Beach — on Wednesday morning. Schools in Miami were closed Thursday and Friday.

The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Giménez, urged residents who are staying in their homes to have at least three days of food and water on hand, according to The Washington Post.

"This hurricane is far too powerful, poses far too great a threat for us to delay actions any further," Giménez said.

In this geocolor GOES-16 satellite image taken Thursday morning, Hurricane Irma batters the island of Hispaniola. play

In this geocolor GOES-16 satellite image taken Thursday morning, Hurricane Irma batters the island of Hispaniola.

(NOAA-NASA via AP)

The Washington Post reported that some residents lined up for hours to fuel their vehicles. Traffic has been very slow along evacuation routes, though Scott waived all tolls to facilitate travel.

Miami International Airport is open but has issued a travel warning ahead of the storm. Airline officials at Orlando International say they're monitoring the storm and will decide whether to relocate planes and move equipment off the runway as necessary.

Airlines including American, JetBlue, Spirit, and Air Canada are issuing waivers for travelers to change their itineraries to a number of Florida airports for no fee.

South Carolina, Georgia

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, as forecasts are predicting Irma could hit the state.

"The state of emergency allows one of the best, most experienced emergency response teams on earth to begin organizing response efforts," McMaster tweeted.

"South Carolina is fortunate to have time to allow us to prepare for Hurricane Irma’s potential landfall," he continued. "And it is important that families and individuals in vulnerable areas use that time to review safety plans in case they are needed."

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in 30 counties in coastal Georgia, and issued an executive order authorizing up to 5,000 state National Guard troops to assist with rescue and relief efforts.

Deal further ordered the mandatory evacuation of Chatham County and other coastal areas in Georgia.

Hurricane warnings were also still in effect for parts of Cuba on Saturday.

See a list of Florida evacuation zones here »