Florida officials are issuing evacuation orders as Hurricane Irma approaches with 185-mph winds

Hurricane Irma continues to strengthen as it barrels towards Florida, and officials are already ordering evacuations from areas likely to be hardest-hit if the storm makes landfall. 

Irma — one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic — is a Category 5 hurricane with maximum wind speeds of 185 miles per hour. The storm, which was creeping towards the Caribbean island of Antigua as of Tuesday afternoon, comes just a week after flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey destroyed buildings and neighbourhoods in Houston. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott activated the Florida National Guard on Tuesday, calling on all 7,000 members to report for duty on Friday morning, the Orlando Sentinel reports

Scott also asked President Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency for Florida to free up federal funding for evacuations and flooding infrastructure.

“Our state emergency management officials are working with our federal and local partners to prepare for any potential impacts from this dangerous storm,” Scott said in a release. “And it is crucial that we have access to every available resource to protect our families and communities.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also issued a warning about the hurricane on Twitter Tuesday afternoon: 

Models are predicting that Irma could hit Florida by Saturday or Sunday, though forecasters can’t be certain of how strong the storm will will be or where it will be five days out. 

Officials in Monroe County, where the Florida Keys are located, ordered a mandatory evacuation for tourists by Tuesday morning and will order mandatory evacuations for all residents on Wednesday morning. The county’s schools will close on Wednesday, the Sentinel reports.

The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Giménez, warned on Tuesday that officials could ask residents to evacuate ahead of the storm as early as Wednesday. Residents with disabilities and special needs will be evacuated on Wednesday morning, and Giménez urged residents to have at least three days of food and water on hand, reports The Washington Post

“This hurricane is far too powerful, poses far too great a threat for us to delay actions any further,” Giménez said, per The Post. 

Miami International Airport has also issued a travel warning ahead of the storm, while officials at Orlando International say they’re monitoring the storm and will decide whether to relocate planes and move equipment off the runway. Airlines including American, JetBlue, Spirit, and Air Canada are issuing waivers for travellers to change their itineraries to a number of Florida airports for no fee. 

Hurricane warnings were also issued for 12 island groups in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, with residents urged to evacuate ahead of the storm. 

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