Authorities in several Florida counties have issued evacuation orders as Hurricane Irma intensified to a Category 5 storm of historic proportions and catastrophic potential.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered evacuations to begin on Wednesday for some of the county’s 2.7 million residents. The mayor also ordered country offices to close on Thursday and Friday, Sun Sentinel reported.
“Because of the strength and intensity of this storm, we need to take action and we need to take action now,” Gimenez said.
People with special needs would be evacuated Wednesday, Gimenez said while advising others to have at least three days worth of food, water, and basic supplies.
Meanwhile, officials in Monroe County ordered a mandatory evacuation for tourists at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and for residents at 7 p.m.
Monroe County is home to the Florida Keys, a series of islands off of South Florida that regularly attract tourists. The county has 80,000 residents.
Officials urged people to leave early since the islands are connected to the mainland by a single highway—U.S. 1.
“The earlier people leave the Keys the less traffic they are likely to encounter,” a statement from Monroe County officials said, according to the Washington Post.
“We’re pros at this,” Monroe County administrator Roman Gastesi said on Tuesday. “Obviously this is a big one, and this could be the big one. But folks out here are really connected to the weather and so we know what to do.”
“With Hurricane Irma now a category 5 storm, we must do all we can to prepare our families and communities for any potential impact from this major weather event,” Scott said in a statement.
“We do not know the exact path of this storm, but weather can change in an instant and while we hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst,” Scott added.
Officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties are set to meet on Wednesday to determine when to open shelters.
Hurricane Irma intensified into a monstrous storm on Tuesday, Sept. 5, with wind speeds of over 185 mph, making it the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, according to a 4 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Irma was upgraded at a Category 5 Hurricane earlier on Tuesday, with winds well above the 157 mph threshold for the category. Irma was moving toward the Leeward Islands at 14 mph as of the 11 a.m. advisory. The NHC called it an “extremely dangerous storm.”
Irma is a “Cape Verde hurricane,” which are known to be especially intense. Cape Verde hurricanes from far out over the Atlantic Ocean near the Cape Verde Islands. They then travel all the way over the Atlantic, according to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.
Cape Verde storms often turn into some of the most massive and intense hurricanes, including the likes of Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Floyd, and Hurricane Ivan.
In its current state, Irma would be the biggest storm to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, according to the Miami Herald.
Irma could reach southern Florida on Sept. 10 as a Category 4 hurricane, according to a global model developed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and mapped by Ventusky.
Irma may be the most devastating storm in U.S. history, with insured damages more than or equal to those caused by Hurrican Katrina, according to research firm Barclays, CNBC reported.
“Given the potential magnitude of this storm as well as the potential to impact a highly populated area, we think Irma’s insured damage in Florida could be the largest ever in the US perhaps equivalent to Hurricane Katrina,” wrote Barclays’s Jay Gelb on Tuesday.