The state of Florida has issued evacuation warnings for its three largest counties, as well as mandatory evacuation orders for the Florida Keys, in preparation for Hurricane Irma.
Irma, which has been classified as a Category 5 storm with potentially devastating effects, has already begun whipping in ocean waters just outside of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with winds upwards of 180 miles per hour, according to The Washington Post.
Irma is expected to make landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 6, reports CNN. Its path remains fairly unknown, with some models showing the storm then heading west towards the Florida mainland, while others predicted it could work its way up the East Coast.
In the Florida Keys, where residents were placed under mandatory evacuations on Sept. 6 and made their preparations to leave the island chain, panic is setting in. Grocery stores and gas stations were running low on staples, with bottled water in short supply and long lines for fuel.
Carlos A. Gimenez, the mayor of Florida's most populous county, Miami-Dade, said he would begin issuing evacuation advisories for his residents in the coming days.
"This hurricane is far too powerful, poses far too great a threat, for us to delay actions any further,” Gimenez said Sept. 5. "I would rather inconvenience our residents on this occasion than suffer any unnecessary loss of life if in fact we are hit by Hurricane Irma. It is still too early to know if we will take a direct hit."
Much of the concern is for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in addition to the Keys, as Irma barrels toward the chain of islands en route for a direct hit.
"Hurricane Irma’s magnitude compares to no other weather system in the recorded history of Puerto Rico," wrote Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello Nevares in a letter to President Donald Trump, asking the president to declare a state of emergency over the territory.
"We have expended substantial resources in preparation for this disaster and without the assistance of the federal government, the local communities will be unable to recover effectively," continued Nevares.
Trump declared a state of emergency over all U.S. territories that Irma might ffect, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida, reports The New York Times.
The hurricane has already begun wreaking havoc, making landfall in the eastern parts of the Caribbean with winds up to 185 miles per hour. Buildings and infrastructure have been damaged but no deaths have been reported.