Mass evacuations were taking place across Florida ahead of ahead of Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm which is scheduled to make landfall in the US state later this week after causing widespread devastation in the Caribbean.
Miami-Dade County issued its first evacuation in 12 years for 7 a.m., on Thursday morning for various towns along the coast, including Miami Beach, in advance of the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, reports Efe news.
This comes after Monroe County ordered “residents and all visitors, tourists and non-residents” to evacuate on Wednesday evening.
The evacuations have triggered an exodus from Florida, causing massive delays on roads leaving the Sunshine State.
Major queues were seen from Key Largo to Lake Park, Georgia, with the I-75 northbound at a complete standstill, epa photographers reported.
Florida Governor Rick Scott spoke to US President Donald Trump on Monday night to request a “pre-landfall emergency” for the state in order “to provide important resources and assistance from the federal government and free up funding sources for emergency protective measures”.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and his counterpart from South Carolina Henry McMaster followed suit on Wednesday afternoon, declaring an emergency for counties along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts to free up emergency federal funds and trigger response preparations for authorities along the coast.
So far, six people were reported dead after Irma made landfall early Wednesday morning in the Caribbean and hit the islands of Antigua and Barbuda.
Irma’s eye is located about 80 km (50 miles) north of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said in its latest forecast on Wednesday night.
It continues to move at around 26 km/h towards the west-northwest with maximum sustained winds of 295 km/h and even higher gusts.
The NHC forecast that Irma’s eye will continue to pass just north of Puerto Rico on Wednesday night, will pass near or just north of the Hispaniola Island’s coast on Thursday, and will be near the Turks and Caicos and southeast Bahamas by Thursday evening.
Then it is expected to head towards northern Cuba and will arrive in Florida later in the week.