Preparation for one of the most powerful storms to hit Florida in over a decade went into overdrive Tuesday as the state braced itself for intense winds, torrential rainfall and possible mass destruction from Hurricane Irma.
Irma, now a Category 5 storm, is projected to make landfall on Florida Saturday and Sunday, possibly engulfing the entire state as a strong Category 4 storm.
Floridians wasted no time preparing to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm, with thousands heading to grocery stores stocking up on food and water in anticipation of Irma.
Gov. Rick Scott spent the majority of Tuesday focused on the hurricane, which could easily become life-threatening to Florida in just a matter of days.
The governor announced a series of hurricane preparedness measures Florida would be undertaking in preparation for the storm, from monitoring fuel supplies to coordinating with hospitals on evacuation needs.
Scott declared a State of Emergency for all 67 counties in Florida and asked President Donald Trump to issue a pre-landfall emergency for the state in preparation for the hurricane.
The governor announced 7,000 National Guard members would be reporting for duty Friday morning, with 13 helicopters and more than 1,000 high-wheeled trucks on standby, lying in wait as Irma threatens to knock down power lines, destroy homes and cause heavy flooding throughout the state.
Scott also suspended all tolls on Florida roads to keep traffic flowing as the storm slowly crept its way towards the Sunshine State.
“Ensuring the safety of Florida families and visitors is our top priority and suspending tolls statewide will help people quickly evacuate and make it easier for all Floridians to access important hurricane supplies to ensure they are fully prepared,” Scott said in a statement.
Officials began ordering evacuations well before Irma is projected to make landfall this weekend, with some cities, like Miami, ordering special needs citizens and those residing in certain parts of the city to get out while they still had time.
Gimenez, who heads up one of the state’s largest cities, said evacuations would begin Wednesday.
“This hurricane is far too powerful, poses far too great a threat for us to delay actions any further,” said Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez at a news briefing Tuesday.
Officials in the Florida Keys also issued a mandatory evacuation for tourists beginning Wednesday at 7 a.m.
School districts were monitoring the storm, with some announcing they would be shutting down through the rest of the week.
The National Hurricane Center predicted Hurricane Irma will reach Florida by 8 a.m. Sunday.