(AFP) — US President Donald Trump urged Americans Friday to get out of the way of Hurricane Irma, calling it an “epic” storm as other officials warned time was running out for people living its path to escape its wrath.
Hurricane Irma, now a Category 4 hurricane packing winds of 150 miles (240 kilometres) per hour, is expected to make landfall in south Florida late Saturday.
“Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen. Be safe and get out of its way,if possible. Federal G is ready!” Trump tweeted.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told a press briefing Irma is “a remarkably dangerous storm, and the window to get yourself in the right spot for weathering the storm, either evacuating or weathering the storm is closing rapidly.”
More than a million people are under mandatory orders to evacuate in Florida and Georgia, and more states are expected to urge residents to seek higher ground, said FEMA administrator Brock Long.
“I can guarantee you that I don’t know anybody in Florida that has ever experienced what is about to hit south Florida,” Long told reporters.
“They need to get out and listen to the advice.”
Long said just three Category 5 hurricanes have hit the United States since 1851, including Hurricane Andrew which leveled much of south Florida in 1992.
“Andrew was a very, very small, compact Category 5 compared to what we are seeing here in Irma,” Long warned.
“It is not a question of if Florida is going to be impacted, it is a question of how bad.”
Deadly Irma has wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, killing at least 17 people and flattening buildings in tiny islands of St Martin, Antigua and Barbuda.
The storm weakened slightly from a Category 5 to Category 4 by Friday morning as it charged across the central Bahamas and north coast of Cuba on Friday.
The hurricane is forecast to slam into the island chain south of Florida known as The Keys on Saturday, then forge a path of destruction northward up the Florida peninsula.
Some six million people live in the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, all nestled on the southeastern coast and famed for their sunny beaches, golf courses and tourist appeal.
Experts say the evacuation could be the largest in the United States since 2005, when Hurricane Rita forced more than three million people to flee Texas and Louisiana.