Floridians began a mass exodus as Hurricane Irma plowed through the Caribbean toward the Sunshine State.
Hurricane Irma cut a path of devastation, leaving at least 11 dead and thousands homeless as it spun toward Florida for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend.
Forecasters say Irma could slam headlong into the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people, punish the entire length of the state’s Atlantic coast, and move into Georgia and South Carolina.
Thousands of cars headed north, causing interstate backups and slowdowns. Drivers waited for hours at gas stations, some of which ran out of fuel.
Travelers stood in line for hours at airports as the powerful category five storm churned in the Atlantic.
KHON2 spoke to a former Hawaii resident who’s in Irma’s path.
Mark Kaleiwahea used to live in Ewa Beach, but now calls Rockledge, Fla. home.
He says his county is in the direct path of Irma, but he’s still planning to hunker down.
“I feel pretty safe here. If we do sustain a direct hit, my only concern would be the aftermath, you know? No power, no water, no roads blocked, that kind of thing,” Kaleiwahea said.
The hurricane was still north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday evening, sweeping the neighboring nations on Hispaniola island with high winds and rain while battering the Turks and Caicos islands on its other side.
About a million people were without power in Puerto Rico after Irma sideswiped the island overnight, and nearly half the territory’s hospitals were relying on generators. No injuries were reported.
The first islands hit by the storm were scenes of terrible destruction, including in the island of Barbuda.
“Ninety percent of the homes have been decimated. It’s a real sad situation. It’s a natural disaster of unprecedented scale,” said Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
Florida residents are watching the storm closely.
“Look at the size of this storm. It is wider than an entire state and could cause major life-threatening impacts from coast to coast,” warned Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
There were long lines at gas stations and grocery stores, people boarding up their homes, and in some cases, preparing to evacuate
“We cannot protect you in the middle of the storm. This means you need to plan now and where you’d need to go. Do not wait,” Scott said.
Gasoline is already in short supply. Officials in the state say at the moment, that’s a top priority.
Irma may force one of the largest evacuations ever in the United States, which is why officials want everyone in the state to be ready as soon as possible.
“Florida will have major hurricane impacts with deadly storm surge and life-threatening winds,” Scott said. “That’s why every everybody in Florida has got to watch where this is going.”