Hurricane Irma continues to hurtle toward Florida's doorstep, threatening to ravage the state with destruction not seen in a generation.
As the weather forecasts and warnings from officials grew increasingly dire, hundreds of thousands of people across Florida fled their homes before the rapidly closing window to escape Irma's wrath slammed shut. Forecasters said Irma, a hurricane of remarkable size and power that already has battered islands across the Caribbean, would approach South Florida by Sunday morning is likely to slam into its southern tip before tracking north across a heavily populated area.
"It's not a question of if Florida's going to be impacted, it's a question of how bad Florida's going to be impacted," William "Brock" Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Friday at a news conference.
"Irma is likely to make landfall in Florida as a dangerous major hurricane, and will bring life-threatening wind impacts to much of the state regardless of the exact track of the center," the National Hurricane Center said.
Local, state and federal officials have offered ominous warnings as the storm zeroed in on Florida, making it clear how much danger they felt the Sunshine State could face in coming days. Long urged people from Alabama to North Carolina to monitor and prepare for the storm, calling it "a threat that is going to devastate the United States, either Florida or some of the southeastern states."
In addition to having intense power, Irma also is an immense storm, with forecasters reporting hurricane-force winds extending some 70 miles from the center and tropical-storm force winds extending as far as 185 miles out.
Airports around the state said they would suspend flights and cease operations. Publix, a grocery store chain, announced plans to close stores across the state in waves and did not say when they would reopen. Tom Bossert, homeland security adviser to President Trump, said Friday that people need to have enough food and water to get by during a period when the rain and wind will prevent authorities from getting to them.