Hurricane Irma continued on its rampage through the Caribbean and the Bahamas, and now has the state of Florida directly in its sights.
While the storm that boasted winds up to 185 miles per hour was recently downgraded to a Category 4 storm – meaning winds of up to 155 miles per hour – it’s a harsh reality that Irma could return to a Category 5 catastrophe as the eye of the storm closes back in.
Floridians have been bracing for Hurricane Irma since earlier this week, and the images and videos from Irma’s destruction so far are a frightening, sobering warning. Turn the sound on:
Florida Governor Rick Scott urged residents to get out before the hurricane. “You’ve got to get out; you can’t wait,” he said.
Irma made landfall on the northeast Caribbean island of Barbuda on Sept. 6, and the island is now mostly rubble. The storm then went through St. Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin islands before heading toward Puerto Rico and touching the coasts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Turks & Caicos. At least 10 people are dead so far, and that number is expected to climb.
Mass evacuations of residents are taking place in south Florida and the Florida Keys. The Navy also evacuated 5,000 personnel stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West.
Highways were backed up for miles as thousands of residents fled the area where Irma is expected to hit first in Florida; gas stations ran out of fuel.
Flights were cancelled out of Miami International Airport, but some airlines also offered last-minute flights on Friday.
The tension was palpable, and there was even an incident where a knife-wielding man was shot by police when he entered a restricted area and then went on the tarmac at the airport.
The south Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach are home to approximately 6 million people, and mandatory evacuation orders were given for parts of that area, as well as parts of Brevard County and Monroe County, which contains the Florida Keys. School was also cancelled.
This hurricane is one of the most powerful ever recorded and remains an “extremely dangerous” system.
Hurricane Irma is twice the size of Hurricane Andrew, which hit in 1992 in Florida and destroyed 63,500 houses, damaged more than 124,000 others and caused $26.5 billion in damages.
This video of the inside of Hurricane Irma is courtesy Maj. Brad Roundtree, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, U.S. Air Force Reserve. The Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters will continue to fly until the storm makes landfall, collecting data so the NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center can increase the accuracy of its forecasts.
Governor Scott said: “No resource or expense will be spared to protect families.” However, the state is urging those in harm’s way to evacuate or prepare for the worst.