Mandatory evacuation ordered in Florida Keys as Hurricane Irma bears down

KEY WEST, Fla. — Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, says it is issuing a mandatory evacuation for visitors as a precaution ahead of Hurricane Irma, and an evacuation order for residents will follow. The visitors’ evacuation is “expected to begin at sunrise on Wednesday,” the county said in a news release. “We want all visitors in the Keys to leave the Keys,” county spokeswoman Cammy Clark said.

Irma was churning Tuesday afternoon in the Atlantic about 180 miles east of Antigua and Barbuda, heading west with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph  well above the 157 mph threshold for a Category 5 — the hurricane center said.

The storm’s forecast track currently has it near or over Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Anguilla by late Tuesday or early Wednesday, and the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon.

Preparations to protect life and property in those areas “should be rushed to completion,” the hurricane center said in a 2 p.m. ET advisory.

“We could see storm surges of 7 to 11 feet — that’s certainly life-threatening — and very, very heavy flooding rainfall” in the far northeastern Caribbean islands as well winds that could cause catastrophic damage near the eye wall, the hurricane center’s Michael Brennan said.

Computer models show the system possibly near the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday and Friday, and Cuba on Friday and Saturday — and potentially turning north toward Florida by the weekend.

While Irma’s exact path is uncertain, Florida — where storm-wary shoppers were standing in long lines outside some stores Tuesday — is bracing for the storm.

After declaring a state of emergency across Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said President Donald Trump had “offered the full resources of the federal government as Floridians prepare for Hurricane Irma.”

Scott also ordered 7,000 National Guard troops to report for duty by Friday morning. Of those, 100 were activated Tuesday to begin helping with preparations, he said.