Irma bears down on Florida, more than 5M told to flee coast

Customers at a Home Depot in South Miami Dade buy building materials to secure their property in anticipation of Hurricane Irma early Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 in Miami, Fla. The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Irma weakened a bit more but remains a powerful threat to Florida. (AP Photo/Gaston De Cardenas)



Associated Press

MIAMI — Irma trained its sights on Florida and officials warned more than 5 million people that time was running out Friday to evacuate ahead of the deadly hurricane as it followed a path that could take it from one end of the state to the other.

By early evening, Irma was a slightly weakened Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph and forecasters said it could be back up to Category 5 when it comes ashore near Key West on Sunday morning.

Forecasters adjusted the storm’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.

Nevertheless, forecasters warned that its hurricane-force winds were so wide they could reach from coast to coast, testing the nation’s third-largest state, which has undergone rapid development and more stringent hurricane-proof building codes in the last decade or so.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said. “Everybody’s going to feel this one.”

Irma killed at least 20 people in the Caribbean and left thousands homeless as it devastated small resort islands known for their warm, turquoise water.

In Florida, gas shortages and gridlock plagued the evacuations, turning normally simple trips into tests of will. Parts of interstates 75 and 95 north were bumper-to-bumper, while very few cars drove on the southbound lanes.