Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is urging residents and tourists to take Hurricane Irma seriously, warning that the record-breaking storm is “bigger, faster and stronger” than Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the state 25 years ago.
Scott implored people to “get out quickly” if local officials have ordered them to evacuate, adding that he had waived highway tolls across the state to streamline the process.
“Do not ignore evacuation orders,” Scott said during a news conference on Wednesday. “Remember: We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life.”
Mandatory evacuations are in effect for the Florida Keys and parts of Miami-Dade County, where Irma could make landfall by early Monday. Scott said he expects additional evacuations to be issued as the storm continues to barrel toward the continental United States.
“It’s too early to tell, but it’s important that all Floridians keep an eye on this,” he said. “Do not sit and wait for [Irma] to come. Get prepared right now.”
With maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, Irma is one of the most powerful hurricanes on record in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm wreaked havoc as it passed over regions of the Leeward Islands on Wednesday morning.
Irma is predicted to hit northeastern Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon as it moves west toward Florida.
Scott said Wednesday that 1,000 Florida National Guard members had been activated in anticipation of Irma’s impact, with an additional 6,000 members directed to report for duty by Friday morning.
Thousands of people packed into stores to stock up on water, fuel and other supplies, emptying shelves and forming long lines.
“As you prepare, be considerate of your neighbors,” Scott said. “Take only what you need.”
Scott encouraged people to register on volunteerflorida.org to help with relief efforts, including shelter management and food distribution.
Irma’s wrath comes just days after Hurricane Harvey ravaged parts of Texas and Louisiana. Thousands remain displaced as recovery efforts continue throughout the region.