Forecasters predict slight shift in Hurricane Irma's track
"If you live in any evacuation zones and you're still at home, leave!" Governor Scott warned Floridians at a news conference Thursday. "Do not try to ride out this storm ... we can't save you once the storm hits."
At least 500,000 people in South Florida now face evacuation orders.
Scott said that regardless of their location, people should be ready to get out. The governor noted that Florida's western coast "will still have hurricane conditions."
Hurricane Irma is located about 55 miles miles west-southwest of Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos, and about 90 miles east of Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. ET advisory. The storm is headed west-northwest at 16 mph with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, and is currently "pummeling" Turks and Caicos.
The storm is expected to travel west in the coming days, and will remain a Category 5, or possibly drop to a 4, according to the NHC.
Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties are all now under a hurricane watch, which is issued 48 hours in advance by the National Hurricane Center. The watch means hurricane conditions will be possible within the next two days in the specified area, and residents should prepare accordingly.
Hurricane Irma has killed at least 13 people as it has torn through the Caribbean, including three deaths in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"Irma will have major hurricane impacts," Scott said, adding they should be expected along Florida's east coast. The Florida Keys should expect effects from the storm Friday night, he said.
"Look at the size of this storm. It is wider than our entire state," Scott said. "Every Floridian should take this serious and protect your family."
Ahead of the storm's arrival, Scott ordered all public schools in the state closed, from Friday until Monday. That includes K-12 schools, state colleges and universities, as well as state offices.
Fox News Senior Meterologist Janice Dean said Thursday the forecast still brings the eye of Irma close to South Florida Saturday night into Sunday, but timing of Irma's northward turn on Saturday will determine whether the storm moves east of, west of, or straight into South Florida.
"A track just east of South Florida and Miami would spare Miami-Dade from the worst winds and surge, but this track offshore and parallel to Florida's east coast would then bring Irma northward toward Georgia and South Carolina on Monday-Monday night as a hurricane," Dean said.
Hurricane conditions are possible in 48 hours in South Florida, according to Dean, but residents further up the coast should close pay attention.
"South Florida remains in the crosshairs for Irma, while coastal Georgia and South Carolina should closely monitor Irma's forecast for potential impacts from a hurricane Monday-Monday night," she said.
Hurricane Irma, center, with Hurricane Katia in the Gulf of Mexico, left, and Hurricane Jose in the Atlantic Ocean, right. (NOAA
As Irma continues to barrel toward South Florida, residents in parts of the Miami metro area are under mandatory orders to leave their homes.
Mayors in Miami-Dade and Broward counties issued mandatory evacuation orders for barrier islands and low-lying mainland areas in the metro area of 6 million.
Officials in Miami-Dade County opened four additional shelters, including pet-friendly ones, for residents seeking safety from Irma.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez expanded evacuation orders Thursday to cover Miami's downtown, as well as portions of the southern part of the county threatened by Irma's potential storm surge.
"This storm doesn't appear to be going anywhere," he said Thursday.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine encouraged his city residents to evacuate, and referred to Irma on Fox News as a "nuclear hurricane."
An estimated 31,000 people left the Florida Keys as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, according to Scott, after all visitors were ordered to clear out, causing bumper-to-bumper traffic on the single highway that links the chain of low-lying islands to the mainland.
"It's just scary, you know? We want to get to higher ground. Never had a Cat 5, never experienced it," Michelle Reynolds told the Associated Press as she was leaving the Keys, where people filled gas cans and workers covered fuel pumps with "out of service" sleeves.
"You do not need to evacuate out of the state or hundreds of miles away" to be safe from Irma, Scott said, adding there are nearby shelters you can go to.
At an earlier news conference, Scott said the state's gas situation is a "top priority."
"I have been very clear to the retailers," Scott said. "We have to get the fuel as fast as we can out so people can evacuate."
The Florida Highway Patrol said in a news release troopers are monitoring the high volume of traffic heading north on Florida's Turnpike as people evacuate South Florida.
Extra troopers, road rangers and wreckers will be on the roadways to help drivers whose vehicles have become disabled, according to the FHP.
Motorists head north on Highway US 1, in Tavernier, Fla., Sept. 6, 2017 (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
The agency said disabled vehicles left on the shoulders of the highways would be towed starting Thursday morning to make it easier for emergency workers who are trying to reach crash victims.
Turnpike officials are also using cameras along the road to monitor conditions.
Gov. Scott said he's activated 4,000 members of the National Guard in Florida, and all 7,000 will be deployed on Friday.
Traffic heading north along the Florida Turnpike near Homestead, Fla., Sept. 6, 2017. (Miami Herald via AP)
Further up Florida's coast, officials in Flagler County issued voluntary evacuations for coastal areas, while Brevard County in the Space Coast area issued a mandatory evacuation order for the barrier islands, Merritt Island and some mainland low-lying areas along the Indian River Lagoon
"Those who live in mobile or manufactured homes or in other flood-prone areas are also vulnerable and should evacuate whether on the mainland or the barrier islands," county spokesman Don Walker said.
In Jacksonville, the city's mayor also issued a voluntary evacuation order issued for zones A & B, and urged those who can to leave early to avoid potential traffic issues.
Shifting forecasts have also raised the threat to the Southeast from Irma, prompting emergency declarations in the Carolinas and coastal Georgia, including areas that haven't suffered a direct hit from a major hurricane in more than a century.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered a mandatory evacuation starting on Saturday from the state's Atlantic coast ahead of Hurricane Irma, including the city of Savannah. Nearly 540,000 residents on the coast were ordered to evacuate inland.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also declared a state of emergency. A major strike there would be the first in nearly 28 years.