Miami awaits Hurricane Irma

Irma's path from Africa to North America

Irma's path from Africa to North America

"You need to go right now". Scott also warned that first responders would not be able to rescue anyone once the storm started.

As Irma drew closer to the third most populous U.S. state, officials warned the 6.5 million Floridians under mandatory evacuation orders that they were down to their last hours to make a decision.

Because of this terrifying hurricane, mandatory evacuation orders were kept in place for parts of Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Palm Beach County, Brevard County, and Monroe County.

A resident of Saint Martin told BFM TV she had heard gunshots and had seen people breaking into houses and shops in search of food.

The destructive storm has killed at least 20 people in the Caribbean and left dozens more injured across several island nations. But the hurricane was expected to pick up strength again before hitting the Sunshine State.

Tornadoes may also form Saturday and Sunday over the southern part of Florida, forecasters said.

Irma's centre is predicted to strike the Florida Keys sometime on Sunday, then hit southwestern Florida, move up the state's Gulf Coast and plow into the Tampa Bay area.

Irma leaves trail of destruction: Many residents and tourists were left reeling after the storm ravaged some of the world's most exclusive tropical playgrounds, known for their turquoise waters and lush green vegetation. The storm has 100-mph winds and is forecasted to make landfall in Mexico on Saturday.

Forecasters adjusted Hurricane Irma's potential track more toward the west coast of Florida, away from the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people, meaning "a less costly, a less deadly storm", University of Miami researcher Brian McNoldy said. The agency, which is charged with controlling inland flooding, said Saturday it would no longer have to shut down the entire water flow system along canals, as it had feared.

A couple look at the receding water as they walk their dogs on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa Florida
A couple look at the receding water as they walk their dogs on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa Florida

At 2 p.m., Irma's maximum winds had fallen to about 125 miles per hour after its landfall in Cuba, with hurricane-force winds extending outward from the eye for 70 miles.

- The hurricane warning and the storm surge warning are extended northward along the Florida west coast. "Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe ... you still have time to evacuate".

The National Hurricane Center, in its most recent advisory this afternoon, warned that storm surges could get up to 10 to 15 feet along the southwest coast of Florida calling it a "life-threatening situation".

As much as 20 inches of rain was predicted through Wednesday across the Florida peninsula and southeast Georgia, and maximum wind gusts above 100 miles per hour are expected in much of western Florida.

The mass evacuation underway in Florida and Georgia is unprecedented, comprising millions of affected residents, and the effort has been ongoing for days.

State media reported that people took shelter in tunnels, caves and official emergency shelters. On some highways, like Interstate 4 out of the Tampa area, officials are letting people drive on the shoulder to allow cars to travel more quickly.

With the new forecast, Pinellas County, home to St. Petersburg, ordered 260,000 people to leave.

Florida Governor Rick Scott says at least 76,000 people are without power.

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