Get out. Now.
That’s the simple but scary message Florida Gov. Rick Scott delivered Thursday as apocalyptic Hurricane Irma and its 185 mph winds were poised to rain down on the Sunshine State after plowing a path of death and destruction across the Caribbean.
In picturesque outposts like Barbuda and St. Barthelemy, officials were registering death tolls and trying to find shelter for residents made homeless by the second-strongest recorded storm in the Atlantic. Irma’s wind speeds are behind only 1980’s Hurricane Allen, which peaked at 190 mph at sea.
Storm trackers predicted Irma could veer toward Miami Dade, the state’s most populous county, and wallop Miami with a direct hit.
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Scott urged coastal homeowners to hit the road, even though highways were already bottlenecked with evacuees.
“The storm can move and change at a moment’s notice,” he said Thursday.
“Floridians on the west coast cannot be complacent. And those in coastal areas should be prepared to leave. Many of you, I know, are already stuck in traffic. I know it has to be frustrating. But please be patient. Evacuations are not meant to be convenient. They are meant to keep you safe.”
The governor ordered a mandatory evacuation for the Florida Keys, along with storm-prone Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
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“This is a catastrophic storm that our state hasn’t seen,” Scott warned. “It has already killed a lot of people in the Caribbean. Don’t think you can ride out this storm. Protecting life is our absolute top priority. No resource or expense will be spared to protect families.”
Scott said President Trump had assured him that Florida would get all the help it needs from the federal government. The Republican governor said he had requested disaster tarps, water, baby food, supply trucks, search and rescue personnel and equipment- and incident-management teams.
The Category 5 Hurricane Irma has killed at least 13 people and continues menacing its way through the Caribbean.
Radar tracking showed the mighty storm pass Puerto Rico on Thursday morning. At least three people there were killed, according to the U.S. territory’s governor.
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More than 1 million people on the island were left without power as Irma brought screaming winds and torrential rains to Puerto Rico.
“It could have been far worse” for Puerto Rico, Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “They really escaped the brunt” of Irma’s wrath.
The storm is expected to hit the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Turks and Caicos.
Eight people were killed in France’s Caribbean territories, and another 23 were injured, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Thursday.
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The death toll could go up in places like St. Martin and St. Barthelemy once rescue crews fully assess the damage.
“The reconnaissance will really start at daybreak,” Collomb told a French radio station.
A 2-year-old was killed in Barbuda as a family attempted to escape a destroyed home amid the storm, officials said. Another person was killed on neighboring Antigua, where nearly all roads are considered impassable.
“It is just really a horrendous situation,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told The Associated Press.
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About 60% of Barbuda’s 1,400 residents are homeless after the storm flooded practically the whole island, Browne said.
The storm passed just north of Puerto Rico at about 2 a.m., according to reports, sending powerful winds and torrential rain to the U.S. territory.
Roughly 50,000 are without water, the island’s emergency management agency said.
Trump previously declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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Gov. Cuomo said National Guard teams from New York were headed to Virgin Islands and Florida to help with search and rescue.
The National Hurricane Center expects Irma, moving at 17 mph, will teeter between a category 4 and 5 storm over the next few days.
“We’re very concerned. We are working very hard,” Trump said of the brewing situation in Florida. “We think we’re as well-prepared as you could possibly be.”
About 41,000 people had been moved out of southern Florida as of Wednesday night, Scott said at a news conference.
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Several projected paths for Irma suggests the storm’s winds will rip up Florida’s east coast after pounding Cuba.
But Scott said both coasts of the peninsula should be ready to clear out, despite the eastward projections.
“It is wider than our entire state, he said.
Irma’s potential landfall on U.S. shores would come as nearby Texas still recovers from Hurricane Harvey last week.
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Congressional Democrats made a deal Wednesday with Trump to approve Harvey relief funds and raise the debt ceiling for three months.
More money could likely be on the way as FEMA resources — along with the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies — will be directed to Florida after Irma hits.
Weather watchers are also paying close attention to Hurricane Jose, which grew to Category 3 status Thursday night, and could hit islands like Antigua and Barbuda, which were already pummeled by Hurricane Irma.
“FEMA is doing an incredible job, as you all know,” Trump said. “Certainly we’re being hit with a lot of hurricanes.”
With News Wire Services
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