by , and DEVELOPING News
Hurricane Irma Sept. 9 2017
PLANTATION, Fla. — The outer bands of Hurricane Irma began to lash the Florida Keys and whip up strong surf in Miami on Saturday, as the storm already cut power to nearly 25,000 people, said Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
He warned those in evacuation areas throughout the state — about 6.3 million people — to leave "right this minute."
"The storm is here. Hurricane Irma is now impacting our state," he said at a news conference. "If you've been ordered to evacuate, you need to leave now ... not tonight, not in an hour, you need to go right now."
Scott added the hurricane could be "the most catastrophic storm" the state has ever faced. While Irma weakened slightly Saturday morning to a Category 3 with 125 mph winds, he cautioned that it would cause "life-threatening" surges as high as 12 feet. It was about 175 miles southeast of Key West, according to an 11 a.m. ET National Hurricane Center bulletin.
Winds were also up to 66 mph in South Florida, as bands of heavy rain and thunderstorms started to wallop the southern peninsula, reported The Weather Channel. Florida was less than 24 hours away from the full brunt of Irma's power
Related: Up to 9 Million Floridians Could Be Without Power After Irma, Some for Weeks
"This will cover your house," Scott said of the storm surges, adding, "You will not survive all this storm surge."
A significant storm surge is expected from Cape Sable on Florida's southern tip, up along the west coast to Tampa, with water levels possibly reaching 8 feet, said Michael Brennan, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
Brennan added that in some places along the southwestern coast of Florida there remained a risk of "catastrophic life-threatening storm surge," with water rising to between 10 to 15 feet.
"Once the storm starts, law enforcement cannot save you," Scott said
. "Do not put your life or your family's life at risk."
Many of Florida's communities had become ghost towns on Saturday. In Plantation, just inland from Fort Lauderdale, the once busy streets had gone quiet, and the only sounds were the quickening winds pulling at the trees and the occasional car passing by
Juan Carlos Lorca, 42, who has lived in Florida for 25 years, took a quick stroll ahead of the hurricane to get some fresh air. Lorca, a construction worker, said he was quick to prepare for the storm when he first heard about it: boarding up his windows, picking up cash from the bank, and buying water, gas, ice, food and — most importantly — beer and wine.
Related: Hurricane Irma Leaves Path of Destruction in Caribbean
He called the storm a temporary vacation, but urged people to be careful.
"I should not be here," he said. "But I wanted to get some fresh air. By 2 p.m., everyone should be back in their home."
"What I see on the news," he added, "that is very wrong if people are still on the beach."
Hurricane Irma has already claimed at least 23 lives after smashing through a string of Caribbean islands earlier this week, including Barbuda, St. Martin, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where 1 million people were left without electricity. Some Caribbean islands already hit by Irma were bracing for another storm, Hurricane Jose, on Saturday.
Scott said Florida has been "aggressive" in its preparation for Irma, adding that there were more than 260 shelters open across the state. More than 50,000 Floridians have taken shelter already, he said, adding that "there's still room for more."
"Protecting life is our absolute top priority — there will be no resource or expense spared to protect life," he said.
But the governor said Florida does have a shortage of nurses and urged volunteers to come forward. He asked for about 1,000 to help at various shelters. In Collier County, which includes part of the Everglades, more than 11,800 people were housed in 30 shelters. Nurses were flown in overnight from Texas to help.
On Friday, Irma, which had been a Category 5, slammed into Cuba's northern coast "hard," the National Hurricane Center said Saturday.
The still-powerful storm weakened slightly to a Category 4 overnight before winds weakened again Saturday morning.
Irma lost some intensity as it passed over terrain in Cuba, but the hurricane center said it was likely to restrengthen as it crossed relatively warm waters on its destructive path toward Florida.
The Weather Channel on Saturday predicted that the storm would make landfall in the Florida Keys around 8 a.m. ET Sunday, and that it would hit the more populated areas on the mainland around mid-morning or early afternoon.
Florida Power + Light, the nation's third-largest electric utility, warned Friday it was expecting "unprecedented" power outages, and that it could affect about 9 million people.
Kalhan Rosenblatt reported from Plantation, Florida, Phil McCausland reported from New York, and Saphora Smith reported from London.
Catch this giant global wind map - this is all you need to track the major storms (thanks Amy for this fabulous link) https://earth.nullschool.net/#
Individual Tracking Map Tune in here for the latest hurricane monitoring data. This toggles between the Eastern Pacific and the Atlantic and by default it begins with the Eastern Pacific. Links at this site will take you to hurricane monitoring sites for all other areas of the world.
Irma Track http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/
PIC TAKEN AT 19.19BST 09 SEPT. 17 =