Home / National News / Hurricane Irma threatens 'to devastate the United States,' FEMA chief says


(MIAMI) — South Florida is bracing for a major storm surge and powerful winds even as Hurricane Irma weakened to a Category 4 storm as it races toward the U.S. mainland.

“Obviously Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said at a press conference Friday morning. “We’re going to have a couple rough days.”

Irma was downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 storm early Friday morning. As of 8 a.m. ET, the storm was moving 16 mph and located 450 miles southeast of Miami.

The National Weather Service cautioned that Irma is still “extremely dangerous” with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, which are strong enough to uproot trees, bring down power poles and rip off the roofs and some exterior walls of well-built frame homes.

The National Weather Service issued its first hurricane warnings for Florida overnight, warning residents that “preparations to protect life should be rushed to completion.”

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for barrier islands, coastal communities, low-lying areas and mobile homes across Florida, including in Brevard, Broward, Collier, Indian River, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach and St. John’s counties. ABC News estimates roughly 1.2 million Florida residents have been ordered to evacuate.

Meteorologists expect Irma will approach the Florida Keys and southern Florida late Saturday night as a strong Category 4 hurricane and then make landfall near Miami on Sunday sometime around 3 or 4 a.m. ET. Overnight projections of Irma’s path showed less of a threat to the Carolinas as the monster storm appears likely to move directly up the middle of Florida and curve inland.

Meteorologists predict Irma will continue to weaken as the storm moves inland Sunday into Monday. Irma will approach Orlando on Monday around 2 a.m. ET still as a major hurricane with winds of about 105 mph. After moving over Orlando, Irma should weaken rapidly to a tropical storm later Monday as it moves across state lines into Georgia, meteorologists say.

The worst of Irma’s winds and storm surge are projected to be near Marathon and Key Largo, but meteorologists say Miami and heavily populated southeastern Florida will still be on the strongest side of the storm.

The National Weather Service on Friday morning issued a storm surge warning for the Florida Keys and the Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach, saying there is “danger of life-threatening inundation from rising waters moving inland from the coastline during the next 36 hours.”

Moreover, heavy rains are forecast to drench northern Florida, Georgia and even possibly South Carolina and Tennessee by Tuesday. Rainfall accumulations in southeast Florida and the Florida Keys are expected to reach 10 to 15 inches, with totals up to 20 inches locally. Eastern Florida, up the coast to Georgia, is expected to receive 8 to 12 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Government personnel have been deployed from Alabama to Florida and North Carolina to prepare for Hurricane Irma. Florida alone should anticipate dayslong power outages, FEMA said.

Turks and Caicos pummeled, Bahamas next

The Turks and Caicos islands were hit hard overnight into Friday as Irma passed over the tiny archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. A government spokesperson told ABC News that the British overseas territory had sustained “catastrophic” damage.

The National Weather Service warned of a storm surge up to 20 feet on Turks and Caicos with 8 to 12 inches of rain — up to 20 inches in isolated spots — are forecast for the low-lying islands through Sunday.

We cannot stress this enough, #Irma is extremely dangerous! The #StormSurge across the #FLkeys could be devastating! 5-10ft above ground! pic.twitter.com/ZhaPGlT3GU

— NWS Key West (@NWSKeyWest) September 8, 2017

Meanwhile, the Bahamas began to experience the extent of Irma’s wrath Friday morning. The storm’s speed was expected to slow as the core of the hurricane passed between the Bahamas and the northern coast of Cuba during the next two days.

At least 13 people died as a result of Irma as the hurricane battered the Caribbean on Wednesday, officials said.

Long, the FEMA administrator, said at the press conference Friday that the agency’s primary goal is to “stabilize the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico” by restoring power, maintaining security and bringing in life-sustaining supplies.

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