Georgia is bracing
for potentially far-flung impacts from Hurricane Irma, which could
swamp the coast with storm surge and topple trees and power lines in North Georgia.
The National Hurricane Center placed the entire Georgia coast under a hurricane watch Saturday as residents packed their cars and trickled onto the highways in six counties under a mandatory evacuation. A hurricane watch was also issued for the South Carolina coast from the Georgia line to Edisto Beach, about 40 miles southwest of Charleston.
Irma's center is forecast to enter southern Georgia far inland Monday and plow northward as a tropical storm or depression. Emergency officials expect tropical storm winds to reach Georgia's coast, where storm surges could be amplified by unusually high tides.
Irma hurtled toward Florida with 125 mph winds Saturday on a shifting course that took it away from Miami and instead threatened the first direct hit on the Tampa area from a major hurricane in nearly a century. That represented a significant turn in the forecast, which for days had made it look as if the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people was going to get slammed head-on.
Florida's governor is issuing urgent warnings to a third of his state's residents to evacuate ahead of a massive hurricane on track to be the state's most catastrophic ever.
Gov. Rick Scott says the entire west coast of Florida will likely see dangerous affects from storm surge as Hurricane Irma comes ashore Sunday. About 6.3 million of the state's approximately 21 million residents have been asked to evacuate.
During a Saturday news conference, he told those in evacuation zones: "You need to leave — not tonight, not in an hour, right now"
Florida emergency management officials have asked another 700,000 to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma. That brings the total number asked to evacuate multiple states to nearly 7 million.
Florida's Division of Emergency Management said Saturday that officials have issued a mix of mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders to 6.3 million residents. The number rose overnight as the predicted path of Hurricane Irma has shifted west. It's likely to come ashore Sunday.
The size and trajectory of the storm has prompted officials to order evacuations along both coasts of Florida, including some of the state's population centers. Florida is the nation's third largest state with nearly 21 million residents.
Another 540,000 have been asked to evacuate in the eastern part of Georgia.
In South Carolina, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for eight barrier islands. That includes Hilton Head Island, the most populous of the islands with about 40,000 residents.
Irma has weakened to a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds, but it's expected to regain its strength before slamming into Florida.
The storm has been pounding Cuba, and forecasters say it will get stronger once it moves away.
Irma is expected to hit the Florida Keys on Sunday morning and then Tampa. The National Hurricane Center warned in a Saturday advisory that the storm will bring "life-threatening wind" to much of the state regardless of its exact path.
Forecasters also predict storm surges of up to 15 feet in southwestern Florida and rainfall up to 25 inches in the Keys.