Hurricane Irma takes aim at Florida, 5 million told to evacuate

Hurricane warnings issued for much of Central Florida

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist , Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. - Hurricane Irma's path continued to shift west Saturday, creating the possibility of life-threatening storm surges from the southeast coast to the Gulf Coast when hurricane-force winds arrive Sunday.

Irma is now a category four storm with maximum winds of 130mph, according to the most recent National Hurricane Center track. 

As of 8am, the eye of the hurricane was about 225 miles south-southeast of Miami moving west at 12 mph, according to National Hurricane Center officials.

Hurricane warnings are now in place for Brevard, Orange, Lake, Sumter, Osceola, and Volusia Counties. A storm surge warning is in effect from the Volusia/Brevard County line south and on the west coast of Florida from north of Tampa Bay to the Florida Keys.

Hurricane conditions are expected in parts of South Florida and the Keys beginning Saturday night or early Sunday, including life-threatening storm surges. NHC forecasters said the eye of the storm could be near Tampa Bay early Monday morning. 

State officials warned more than 5 million people, roughly 25 percent of the Florida population, 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.

"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."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned South Florida residents Friday afternoon that they only have hours left to evacuate.

Scott told residents from seven counties that they should leave by midnight or not get on the road.

"If you are planning to leave and do not leave tonight, you will have to ride out this extremely dangerous storm at your own risk," Scott said.

Eastern Florida into coastal Georgia will likely see 8 to 12 inches of rain, with isolated spots getting up to 16 inches. Life-threatening flash floods and mudslides in some areas were possible. Normally dry areas near the coast could be flooded due to the combination of dangerous storm surge and tide, the center said.

The water could reach 6 to 12 feet deep from Captiva to Cape Sable in southwest Florida if peak surge occurs at high tide.

The track shows the eye of Irma over Central Florida early Monday as a Category 2 storm. The region will feel the effects of the massive storm as early as Saturday night.

Sumter County is under a hurricane watch and Indian River County is under a hurricane warning.

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Latest track places Central Florida on Irma's dangerous side

Irma's latest track Friday puts most of the east coast and Central Florida on the "dirty side" or the right side of the storm.

"The strongest winds are found on the right side of the storm, because the motion of the hurricane is added to its sustained winds," News 6 meteorologist Candace Campos said.

For Irma that could be 155-mph winds plus the speed of the storm, currently moving at 12 mph. On the left side, it's the sustained winds minus the speed of the storm.

Hurricane-force winds from the 600-mile-wide storm extend out 70 miles from the eye and tropical-force winds extend up to 185 miles, according to the NHC.

"This is the worst-case scenario for Central Florida," News 6 meteorologist Troy Bridges said. "If it stays on this track, there will likely be damage across much of the region, especially with downed trees and power lines. The greatest concern will be power outages from wind damage."

[RELATED: What impact will Hurricane Irma have in your Central Florida county?]

Central Florida theme park officials said Friday many parks would close early Saturday and their doors would stay shuttered until after Monday.

Floridians scramble to get out of Irma’s path

Across Florida, gas shortages and gridlock plagued evacuations. Parts of interstates 75 and 95 northbound were bumper-to-bumper, while very few cars drove on the southbound lanes.

Florida officials said by Friday night more than 5.6 million people have been asked to evacuate.

The last bus taking people out of Key West left at 5 p.m. Friday, Monroe County transportation officials said. The Florida Keys were ordered to evacuate three days ago.

The National Weather Service in the Florida Keys took to Twitter Friday evening to give a last warning to anyone thinking about staying behind.

“This is as real as it gets,” the tweet read. “Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe. You still have time to evacuate.”

Several small communities around Lake Okeechobee in the south-central part of Florida were added to the evacuation list because the lake may overflow — but Scott added that engineers expect the protective dike to hold up.

[LIVE UPDATES: Hurricane Irma track, models, satellite; storm updates]

At 2 p.m. Friday when the National Hurricane Center released Irma’s updated track, shifting to toward the west coast, Scott warned Gulf Coast residents of storm surge.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says more than 660,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate as Hurricane Irma approaches South Florida.

The mayor said during a news conference Friday that this is the largest evacuation order he can remember.

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