Hurricane Irma continues to churn through the Caribbean on a course that could take it to South Florida by the weekend.
As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, Irma remained a strong Category 5 storm as it hit the island of Anguilla. It’s projected path would take it towards Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and, based on current forecasts, South Florida by the weekend.
“This storm has the potential to devastate this state and we’ve got to take it seriously,” Gov. Rick Scott said during a morning briefing in the Florida Keys. “The entire state needs to be prepared.”
Although Irma’s projected path has moved slightly to the east, Scott warned the storm could impact all of Florida.
The governor stressed that in many ways Irma is a more dangerous storm than Hurricane Andrew was when it devastated South Florida 25 years ago.
“We didn’t have this amount of wind. Andrew was not as big as this is. This one had 185 mph winds. This has the potential for significant storm surge. We didn’t have that in Andrew,” Scott emphasized.
Scott activated another 900 members of the Florida National Guard on Wednesday, bringing the number of troops called up to 1,000 with another 6,000 guardsmen to be activated by Friday.
Members of the Air National Guard are scheduled to begin airlifting patients from hospitals in the Keys this afternoon and transporting them to safer facilities.
Thirteen helicopters and more than a thousand tactical high-water vehicles are on standby to assist in rescues after the storm.
Scott says the Florida National Guard is coordinating with other states to ensure that 30,000 troops, 4,000 trucks and 100 helicopters are ready to assist in rescue efforts.
The governor says he has been in contact with electric companies to make sure everything is being done to expedite the restoration of power to affected areas once the storm passes. He says equipment and supplies are being positioned across the state and in neighboring states to allow for a quick response.
Scott urged Floridians to go to local shelters if they are ordered to evacuate.
The state is staging supplies such as meals, water and shelter support trailers in Central Florida for deployment as needed.
The governor says the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have begun lowering the water levels in Lake Okeechobee in preparation for the possibility that Irma could hit South Florida.
The state is monitoring reports that retailers across the state are running out of bottled water. Scott says the state’s emergency management personnel are working with stores and gas stations to make sure supplies are getting to those areas where supplies are running out.
Scott said “be considerate of your neighbors. Take what you need, but only what you need.”
The state is monitoring the fuel supply and assistance requests.
“We’re moving as much fuel through the system as fast as possible,” Scott said.
He said restrictions on truck weight and driver hours have been waived to help keep gasoline moving into the state.