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Miami – America’s eighth most populated city – is said to be in the “worst possible position” as the storm barrels towards the tip of Florida leaving a swathe of destruction through the Caribbean in its wake.
More than half a million people were caught in massive gridlocks as they tried to flee from the areas expected to bear the brunt of the Category 5 storm that has already claimed at least 14 lives.
As winds reaching nearly 200mph headed towards the sunshine state, officials warned the enormous storm could create one of the largest mass evacuations in US history with up to six million people living in the impact zone.
In all, the United Nations estimates that up to 37 million people could be affected by Hurricane Irma.
Mandatory evacuation orders are already in place for Miami, the Florida Keys and parts of the Georgia coast, including Savannah.
“If you live in any evacuation zones and you’re still at home, leave!” Florida Governor Rick Scott warned last night. “Do not try to ride out this storm – we can’t save you once the storm hits.
“It is wider than our entire state and could cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast. Regardless of which coast you live on, be prepared to evacuate,” he added.
The governor has ordered all state offices, schools, colleges and universities to close from Friday until after the weekend to free up space for evacuation shelters.
With the hurricane still off the coast after battering the Turks and Caicos islands, CNN meteorologist Tom Sater said: “It looks like it’s shifting, even though it may be just 20 miles, it puts Miami right in the worst possible position.”
Forecasters predicted the storm could hit anywhere from Florida to North Carolina over the next few days with Palm Beach, where Mr Trump’s sprawling Mar-a-Lago private club known as the president’s “Florida White House” is located, facing a possible direct hit.
Orlando, home to Disney World, may also now be in the storm’s path.
“To the people of Florida, we just want you to protect yourselves, be very, very vigilant and careful,” Mr trump said last night.
With winds that have so far peaked at 185 mph, Irma is the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic. The Caribbean islands of St Martin and Barbuda were both “virtually destroyed” and the death toll was expected to rise in the aftermath of the storm.
“This is the kind of storm that you read about in the history books,” said Bryan Norcross, senior hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel. “This has the possibility of running up the peninsula and affecting every major city in the state.”
He said he expects Irma to be even worse than 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, the costliest storm in US history with damages of more than £20 billion.
“We’re dealing with an entirely different level of phenomenon. There is no storm to compare with this. Unless you go way back to 1926,” he added.
“It’s a monster hurricane out there,” said AccuWeather founder Dr Joel Myers. “It’s bringing along with it something to be feared.”
NASA has secured its Cape Canaveral Kennedy Space Centre with a crew of about 120 people planning to stay and ride out the storm.
Ships from over a dozen cruises have also been cutting short and cancelling trips in the region leaving many passengers struggling to find flights home.
So far, Walt Disney World has said it is monitoring the weather but all four of its theme parks are scheduled to operate as usual.
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