Hurricane warnings issued for South Florida as Irma leaves Caribbean destroyed
The National Hurricane Center in Miami has issued hurricane warnings for South Florida and the Keys.
Forecasters on Thursday night issued a warning for a sizeable segment of Florida, including the Miami metro area and Lake Okeechobee, as Category 5 Hurricane Irma tracks toward the state with 165 mph winds.
A storm surge has also been issued for the same area.
Irma was 585 miles east-southeast of Miami late Thursday. The Hurricane Center predicts severe conditions to begin Saturday in Florida.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the closing of all schools, colleges and universities throughout the state.
Scott announced late Thursday that all schools as well as state offices would be closed Friday through next Monday.
Many school districts and universities had already voluntarily agreed to close due to the looming arrival of Hurricane Irma over the weekend. But many school districts and colleges in north central and northwest Florida had remained open.
But in a brief statement Scott said he ordered all schools to shut down so that the buildings could be used potentially as shelters or as staging grounds for relief efforts.
He said Floridians "facing a life-threatening storm" and "every family must prepare to evacuate."
Authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands say three people have died after Irma caused what they described as "catastrophic" damage.
Governor spokesman Samuel Topp said Thursday that the deaths occurred in the St. Thomas and St. John district. Officials say crews are clearing many roads that remain inaccessible.
Irma also killed four people and injured about 50 on the French side of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control. Three more deaths were reported on the British island of Anguilla, independent Barbuda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.
The Category 5 storm destroyed homes, schools and roads as it roared through the northeast Caribbean this week and heads toward Florida.
The fate of Florida depends on when and how Hurricane Irma makes a right turn.
National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini says forecasters have no doubt it will turn in the days ahead. If it's an early, sharp turn, Irma is more likely to keep closer to the peninsula's eastern shore or even over water as it churns north.
But if it turns later and more widely, the center of Irma and its maximum destructive capacity would move inland.
Jeff Masters, the meteorology director of Weather Underground, says the main factor determining the turn will most likely be a low pressure system expected to develop over the Great Lakes as part of a dip in the jet stream, with some extra help from winds flowing out of the newly formed Hurricane Katia.