Store owners boarded up their windows and families sandbagged their homes to join a mass exodus on Friday as Hurricane Irma churned toward Florida after cutting a deadly swath through the Caribbean.
After killing at least 19 people and devastating thousands of homes on a string of Caribbean islands, Irma made landfall in Cuba’s Camaguey Archipelago as a maximum-strength Category Five storm.
It had top winds swirling at 160 miles (260 kilometers) per hour and was bearing down on nearby Florida, with the eye of the storm just 300 miles south-southeast of Miami, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew — which killed 65 people in 1992 — Florida’s governor said all of the state’s 20.6 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate.
“People have got to understand, if you’re in an evacuation zone, you should be very cautious, you should get out now,” Governor Rick Scott told CNN. “This is a powerful storm bigger than our state.”
Bumper-to-bumper traffic snaked north out of the peninsula, with mattresses, gas cans and kayaks strapped to car roofs as residents heeded increasingly insistent warnings to get out.