Hurricane Irma is continuing to tear a deadly path through the Caribbean, causing widespread destruction and reducing buildings to rubble, on a track that could lead to a catastrophic strike on Florida.
The American state is bracing for the arrival of the Atlantic’s most deadly storm in history, which has already left at least 13 people dead, with thousands homeless. Emergency chiefs warn it will have a “truly devastating” impact on the US.
Late on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center issued the first hurricane warning for the Keys and parts of South Florida, including some of the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people. It added a storm surge warning and extended watch areas along the east and west coasts.
The United Nations estimates that up to 37 million people could be affected by the category five hurricane, which took a swipe at the British territory of Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday night.
It was the first time the territory had experienced a Category 5 storm, said Virginia Clerveaux, director of Disaster Management and Emergencies.
Irma was about 55 miles (85 km) south of Great Inagua Island and is expected to bring 20-foot (6-m) storm surges to the Bahamas, before moving to Cuba and plowing into southern Florida as a very powerful Category 4 on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding due to begin within the next 48 hours.
Florida is braced for a possible direct hit from as early as Friday night, with forecasters predicting it could strike the entire Atlantic coast and rage into South Carolina and Georgia, where a mandatory evacuation has been ordered.