(AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott has a stark warning for anyone who wants to defy a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Hurricane Irma. He says: “If you live in any evacuation zones and you’re still at home, LEAVE!”
Scott said he “cannot stress this enough. Do not ignore evacuation orders. You rebuild your home … you cannot recreate your family.”
And this: “Do not try to ride out this storm,” he says. The time to leave is now, because he says “we can’t save you once the storm hits.”
South Florida officials are expanding evacuation orders as Hurricane Irma approaches, telling more than a half-million people to seek safety inland.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has announced evacuation orders for downtown Miami and other parts of the city, plus southern parts of the county. The expanded evacuation area also includes Homestead, Coral Gables, South Miami, Miami Shores and North Miami Beach.
County officials had already ordered evacuations Wednesday for Miami Beach and the other barrier islands.
The total population for the affected communities is nearly 700,000 people, though the evacuation zones don’t always include entire cities. Miami-Dade County’s population is about 2.7 million.
The eye of Hurricane Irma is moving west-northwest off the Dominican Republic’s northern coast as an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma has top sustained winds near 175 mph (280 kph) and is expected to continue moving between Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos in the afternoon hours, on a course taking it to the southeastern Bahamas Thursday evening.
As of 2 p.m. EDT, Irma’s crisply defined eye was about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north-northeast of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, moving at about 16 mph (25 kph) to the west-northwest.
In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose has rapidly strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane with top sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph). Jose is following Irma’s path, moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph) over open ocean, about 660 miles (1,060 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles.
In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia was virtually stationary Thursday afternoon, some 215 miles (345 kilometers) east of Tampico, Mexico. Forecasters say that Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), should remain stationary through late Thursday, then approach the Mexican coast late Friday or early Saturday.