Residents in parts of the Miami metro area are under mandatory orders to leave their homes Thursday morning as Hurricane Irma barrels toward the region after killing several people on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin and causing devastation on other islands as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century.
During several media appearances Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott strongly urged people to evacuate if asked to do so by local officials. The governor waived tolls on all Florida highways and told people if they were thinking about leaving to "get out now."
Television footage of the Franco-Dutch island of Saint Martin showed a damaged marina with boats tossed into piles, submerged streets and flooded homes. Power was knocked out there and on Saint Barthelemy.
"It is an enormous disaster, 95 percent of the island is destroyed, I am in shock," Daniel Gibbs, chairman of a local council on Saint Martin, said.
The Dutch Royal Navy, which has two ships stationed off the coast of the Island, tweeted images gathered by helicopter showing damaged houses, hotels and boats.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said eight were killed and the toll was likely to rise in the coming hours.
"We did not have the time yet to explore all the shores," Collomb said, adding that 23 people were also
injured. In all, at least 10 people were reported killed by Irma on four islands.
The core of the hurricane was expected to scrape the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday and track near Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas later.
The island of Barbuda is a scene of "total carnage" and the tiny two-island nation will seek international assistance, said Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda.
Browne said one person was killed on Barbuda. A second storm-related fatality, that of a surfer, was reported on Barbados.
At least half of Puerto Rico's homes and businesses were without power, according to Twitter posts and a message posted by an island utility executive.
The National Hurricane Center NHC said it was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years.
While Irma's intensity could fluctuate and its precise course remained uncertain, the storm was expected to remain at least a Category 4 before arriving in Florida.
Hurricane Andrew struck just south of Miami in 1992 with winds topping 165 mph (265 kph), killing 65 people and inflicting $26 billion in damage. It was at the time the most expensive natural disaster in US history.
"We'll see what happens," President Donald Trump said in Washington. "It looks like it could be something that could be not good, believe me, not good."
Trump's exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach — the unofficial Southern White House — sits in the path of the storm.