Hurricane Irma forecast to strike Florida Keys as Category 5
ABC News(MIAMI) — Hurricane Irma is now forecast to hit the Florida Keys as a Category 5 storm.
“Obviously Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said at a press conference Friday morning. “We’re going to have a couple rough days.”
Irma was downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 storm early Friday morning. As of 5 p.m. Eastern Time, the storm was moving west at 12 mph and located 345 miles southeast of Miami.
The National Hurricane Center cautioned that Irma is “extremely dangerous,” with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, which are strong enough to uproot trees, bring down power poles and rip off the roofs and some exterior walls of well-built frame homes.
The National Hurricane Center issued its first hurricane warnings for Florida overnight, warning residents that “preparations to protect life should be rushed to completion.”
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for barrier islands, coastal communities, low-lying areas and mobile homes across Florida, including the counties of Brevard, Broward, Collier, Indian River, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach and St. John. ABC News estimates roughly 1.2 million Florida residents have been ordered to evacuate.
Meteorologists expect Irma hit the Keys as a Category 5 hurricane between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET on Sunday. Overnight projections of Irma’s path showed less of a threat to the Carolinas as the monster storm appeared likely to move directly up the middle of Florida and curve inland.
Meteorologists predict Irma will continue to weaken as the storm moves inland Sunday into Monday. Irma will approach Orlando on Monday around 8 a.m. Eastern Time with winds of about 75 mph, which would make it a dangerous Category 1 hurricane. After moving over Orlando, Irma should weaken rapidly to a tropical storm later Monday as it moves across state lines into Georgia, then potentially Alabama and Tennessee, meteorologists say.
The worst of Irma’s winds and storm surge are projected to be near Marathon and Key Largo, but meteorologists say Miami and heavily populated southeastern Florida will still be on the strongest side of the storm.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Friday declared a state of emergency in anticipation of Irma’s potential impact.
“It is unfortunate that just as our nation has begun the process to repair the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Harvey, that we are faced with another extreme storm,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “However, if there is one lesson we can take from the tragic events that occurred in Texas, it is that we must redouble our preparation efforts.”
A storm-surge warning was in effect Friday morning for the Florida Keys and the Sebastian Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Venice, with the National Weather Service saying there is “danger of life-threatening inundation from rising waters moving inland from the coastline, during the next 36 hours.”
Moreover, heavy rains are forecast to drench northern Florida, Georgia and even possibly South Carolina and Tennessee by Tuesday. Rainfall accumulations in southeast Florida and the Florida Keys are expected to reach 10 to 15 inches, with totals up to 20 inches locally. Eastern Florida, up the coast to Georgia, is expected to receive 8 to 12 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
— NWS Key West (@NWSKeyWest) September 8, 2017
Government personnel have been deployed from Alabama to North Carolina to prepare for Hurricane Irma. Florida alone should anticipate days-long power outages, FEMA said.
Turks and Caicos pummeled, Bahamas next
The Turks and Caicos islands were hit hard as Irma passed over the tiny archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. A government spokesperson told ABC News the British overseas territory had sustained “catastrophic” damage.
The National Weather Service warned of a storm surge up to 20 feet on Turks and Caicos with 8 to 12 inches of rain for the low-lying islands through Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Bahamas began to experience the extent of Irma’s wrath Friday morning. The storm’s speed was expected to slow as the core of the hurricane passed between the Bahamas and the northern coast of Cuba.
Multiple people have died and thousands were left homeless as a result of Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, after it battered a string of Caribbean islands on Wednesday. At the time, Irma was a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph.
Long, the FEMA administrator, said at the press conference Friday that the agency’s primary goal is to “stabilize the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico” by restoring power, maintaining security and bringing in life-sustaining supplies.
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