Hurricane Irma’s northern eyewall reached lower Florida Keys Sunday morning after the storm regained Category 4 status as it swirled on its projected path toward the state’s west coast, the National Hurricane Center reported.
At least 25 people have died as Hurricane Irma ravaged the Caribbean this week, destroying buildings and uprooting trees on its potentially catastrophic path toward Florida. Around 5.6 million people have been asked to evacuate their homes ahead of landfall, officials say.
That’s more than one-quarter of the state’s population.
Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave.
Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21 million people according to the U.S. Census.
The hurricane has prompted South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to order the evacuation of seven islands, including 40,000 people on Hilton Head Island.
Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday, where waves as high as 20 feet were expected. Communication went down as the storm slammed into the islands. Tourists were evacuated from beachside resorts as the storm barrels toward central Cuba and the Bahamas with Florida in its path.
Irma has already caused “severe and in places critical” damage to the island of Anguilla, according to British officials. It also ripped through the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy and blacked out much of Puerto Rico on Thursday.
The first hurricane warnings were issued for parts of South Florida as the state braced for what could be a catastrophic hit over the weekend.
The National Hurricane Center has warned that the hurricane is increasingly likely to slam into Florida this weekend – as Texas and Louisiana cope with the devastating aftermath caused by Hurricane Harvey.
“Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place,” officials said.
Here’s what you should know about Hurricane Irma and its trajectory.
Where is Hurricane Irma now?
A 8 a.m. ET advisory from the National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 20 miles south-southeast of Key West, with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, and headed for the Florida peninsula northwest at 8 mph.
When is it expected to make landfall in Florida?
Irma is expected to make landfall on Sunday as early as 9 a.m.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday the Florida Keys may feel Irma’s effects as early as Friday night. Forecasters have said that the storm could travel up through Georgia and South Carolina as well.
President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
What else should I know about the storm?
Hurricane Irma is considered extremely dangerous. It brings with it life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The agency had predicted Irma would stay at Category 4 or 5 as it skirted Cuba on Friday night into Saturday.
“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 (Hurricane) Harvey,” Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.
And while its impact on the continental U.S. is still uncertain, Florida Gov. Scott already declared a state of emergency Monday in all 67 counties in order to ensure “local governments have ample time, resources and flexibility to get prepared for this dangerous storm.”
“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,” Scott said.
South Carolina Gov. McMaster also declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm.
On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered a mandatory evacuation starting on Saturday from the state’s Atlantic coast. That includes the city of Savannah.
Deal’s order authorizes about 5,000 Georgia National Guard members to be on active duty to help people respond and recover.
On Friday, President Trump declared a federal state of emergency in Georgia, a move that unlocks special federal resources to be sent to the state including extra money, debris removal and protective measures aimed at supplementing the state’s efforts.
Georgia hasn’t been hit by a hurricane with winds Category 3 or higher since 1898.
Also Thursday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statewide emergency declaration and told people to be prepared statewide, although projections suggest the storm could be much weaker by next week.
Cooper said that tropical storms can be very dangerous, and “this storm can impact any part of North Carolina – all over our state from the mountains to the coast.”
The last Category 5 storm to hit the United States was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. An estimated 250,000 were left homeless and the storm caused more than $20 billion in damage in the Bahamas, Florida and Louisiana. Fifty-five people were killed.
Fox News’ Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Zoe Szathmary, Jake Ingrassia and the Associated Press also contributed to this report.