Florida preps for Hurricane Irma; governor calls up National Guard

Sept. 5 (UPI) — As Irma strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane Tuesday, officials and residents potentially in its path are planning for the storm’s arrival later this week.

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott activated the Florida Air and Army National Guard, with 100 members called up immediately and all 7,000 members told to report for duty Friday morning.

Monday, Scott declared a national emergency in all 67 counties as Irma strengthened into a Category 3 storm and Florida entered the “cone” — or path of the storm — by the National Hurricane Center.

Ima intensified into a Category Storm 5 early Tuesday and tropical storm force winds could arrive in Florida as early as Friday.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, Irma was located 225 miles east of Antigua moving west at 14 mph with 180 mph winds.

It is the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Weather Service. Its wind speeds match Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Andrew at their maximum power, according to Phil Klotzbach, research scientist for Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project in a South Florida Sun Sentinel reportt.

In 2005, Wilma reached maximum intensity at 185 mph winds and it struck Florida as a Category 2 hurricane. Wilma was the most recent major hurricane to make landfall in the contiguous United States until Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southern Texas on Aug. 26.

Although the storm was more than 1,500 miles form Florida Tuesday, officials are putting plans in place.

In Monroe County, which covers the Florida Keys, a mandatory evacuation for tourists was ordered beginning Wednesday night. An evacuation order for residents was not determined.

“My wife is leaving the Keys today,” Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt said in a release. “She would rather go to the dentist than sit in traffic. The sooner people leave the better. If ever there was a storm to take serious in the Keys, this is it.”

Also, Monroe County School District said that all schools will be closed Wednesday.

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief announced the county has begun planning for evacuations.

“We are working with counties to the north and the south to coordinate evacuations if necessary,” she said during a news conference in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Broward officials plan to begin moving individuals with special needs into shelters starting on Wednesday.

An extensive system of canals are capable of moving water quickly, South Florida Water Management District Chief Engineer John Mitnik said at a morning news conference. But he said local drainage depends on neighborhoods’ and subdivisions’ systems.

Mitnik said he expects the storm to dump 8 and 10 inches of rain. But he said Irma is unlike Hurricane Harvey, which was stagnant and dropped 50 inches of rain in many portions of the Houston metro area last week.

Scott said he spoke to President Donald Trump on Monday, and requested a federal state of emergency before Irma’s arrival.

“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared,” Scott said. “In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared.”

Residents in Florida followed the governor’s advice, flocking flocked to the storm to buy storm supplies as well as food and water. They also were filling up their vehicles with gas.

“Everywhere’s a madhouse right now looking for gas, right?” Lake Worth resident Cody Short said to WPTV-TV while filling up a canister for his generator at a Lake Worth Wawa.

Monday’s average of $2.68 a gallon is at its most expensive this year in Palm Beach County, according to GasBuddy.Com.

Hurricane force winds are forecast to hit the Leeward Islands on Tuesday night, and Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

States of emergency have been declared in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Public schools and University of Puerto Rico have canceled classes.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for islands that include Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, St. Martin and Nevis.

“This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey,” Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.

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