Irma eyes long-feared path : Straight through Florida
Irma took direct aim at Florida yesterday, and officials ordered evacuations for at least 1.4 million people along the Southeast coast as the monstrous category four hurricane spun along a long-feared path right through the heart of the peninsula.
Irma was a category four storm with maximum sustained winds of 155mph (250kph) - just below highest category five status - and is forecast to remain at about that strength when it comes ashore someplace south of Miami tomorrow. The storm killed at least 20 people in the Caribbean and left thousands homeless as it devastated small resort islands in its path.
Gas shortages and gridlock plagued the evacuations, turning normally simple trips into tests of will. Parts of interstates 75 and 95 north were bumper-to-bumper, while very few cars drove on the southbound lanes.
WE'RE GETTING OUT
Manny Zuniga left his home in Miami at midnight on Thursday to avoid the traffic gridlock that he had seen on television. It still took him 12 hours to get 230 miles (370 kilometers) to Orlando - a trip that normally takes four hours.
"We're getting out of this state," he said of his wife, two children, two dogs, and a ferret. "Irma is going to take all of Florida."
Across Florida and Georgia, about 1.4 million people were ordered to leave their homes. Authorities opened hundreds of shelters for people who did not leave.
Florida Governor Rick Scott 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 latest forecast shifted the most powerful part of the storm to the west of the Miami metropolitan area that is home to some six million people, but hurricane-force winds are still likely there.
"Irma is likely to make landfall in Florida as a dangerous major hurricane and will bring life-threatening wind impacts to much of the state regardless of the exact track of the centre," the hurricane center said in its forecast.
Forecasters predicted a storm surge of six 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.
With winds that peaked at 185mph (300kph), Irma was once the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic.
Irma's weakening comes at a cost. When that happened, its hurricane-force wind field expanded greatly, to about 110 miles (180 kilometers) wide, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director at the private service Weather Underground.