ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - The National Hurricane Center is suggesting that Irma will make landfall at the Florida tip early Sunday morning. It will be a category 3 or 4 storm at that time, with speeds at or exceeding 120 mph. By very early Monday morning, it is expected to be just offshore of Volusia County, also as a very strong hurricane.
Hurricane and Storm surge Watches are in effect for portions of South Florida and the Florida Keys. Additional watches will be issued.
A Storm Surge Watch has been issued for the Florida peninsula from Jupiter Inlet southward and around the peninsula to Bonita Beach, including the Florida Keys.
A Hurricane Watch has been issued for the Florida peninsula from Jupiter Inlet southward and around the peninsula to Bonita Beach, including the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee, and Florida Bay.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued in Miami Dade and Monroe Counties. Voluntary evacuations have been issued in Broward and Collier Counties.
See what Central Florida counties are issuing evacuations here.
The latest winds are reported to be at 175 mph, with the storm moving at 16 mph to the west-northwest.
Turqs and Caicos and the Bahamas were expecting to be impacted by Hurricane Irma later on Thursday.
Governor Scott has activated a total of 4,000 members of the Florida Army and Air National Guard to support with planning, and logistics operations in preparation for potential impacts from Hurricane Irma. These members are stationing across the state and actively assisting with preparation efforts.
Hurricane Irma lashed Puerto Rico with heavy rain and powerful winds Wednesday night, leaving nearly 900,000 people without power as authorities struggled to get aid to small Caribbean islands already devastated by the historic storm.
Florida rushed to prepare for a possible direct hit on the Miami area by the Category 5 storm with potentially catastrophic 185 mph winds.
Nearly every building on the island of Barbuda was damaged when the eye of the storm passed almost directly overhead early Wednesday and about 60 percent of the island's roughly 1,400 people were left homeless, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told The Associated Press.
"Either they were totally demolished or they would have lost their roof," Browne said after returning to Antigua from a plane trip to the neighboring island. "It is just really a horrendous situation." He said roads and telecommunications systems were destroyed and recovery will take months, if not years. A 2-year-old child was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm, Browne told the AP.
Wielding the most powerful winds ever recorded for a storm in the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Irma bore down Tuesday on the Leeward Islands of the northeast Caribbean on a forecast path that could take it toward Florida over the weekend.
The storm, a dangerous Category 5, posed an immediate threat to the small islands of the northern Leewards, including Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
"The Leeward Islands are going to get destroyed," warned Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach, a noted hurricane expert. "I just pray that this thing wobbles and misses them. This is a serious storm."
Irma had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph in late evening as it as it brushed past Puerto Rico from the east, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was moving at 16 mph.
"Puerto Rico has not seen a hurricane of this magnitude in almost 100 years," Carlos Anselmi, a National Weather Service meteorologist in San Juan, told The Associated Press.
Four other storms have had winds that strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Hurricane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, while 2005's Wilma, 1988's Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185 mph winds.
Irma is so strong, because of the unusually warm waters for that part of the Atlantic.
Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 60 miles from the center and tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles.
The center of Irma was about 130 miles east of Antigua and about 135 miles east-southeast of Barbuda, prompting an ominous warning from officials as the airport closed.
People in the two-island nation should seek protection from Irma's "onslaught," officials warned in a statement, closing with: "May God protect us all."
Several small islands were directly in the path of the storm. In addition to Barbuda they included Anguilla, a small, low-lying British island territory of about 15,000 people.
For the U.S. "this looks like at this point that it's very hard to miss," said University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. "You'd be hard pressed to find any model that doesn't have some impact on Florida. Whether it's the worst case or next-to-worst case, it doesn't look good."
In Florida, residents also stocked up on drinking water and other supplies.
Gov. Rick Scott activated 100 members of the Florida National Guard to be deployed across the state, and 7,000 National Guard members were to report to duty Friday when the storm could be approaching the area. On Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency in all of Florida's 67 counties.
Officials in the Florida Keys geared up to get tourists and residents out of Irma's path, and the mayor of Miami-Dade county said people should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach and most of the county's coastal areas.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says the state has gotten more than 1,500 calls on a price-gouging hotline in the last two days.
Bondi said Wednesday that many of the calls dealt with complaints about the prices being charged on water, food and gas, although she said people have also called to complain that stores are running out of supplies.
The attorney general also said she had been talking directly to retailers such as Amazon. Bondi says the state has received complaints about excessive delivery fees for items such as water. She says the company has told her it suspended 12 third-party vendors because of gouging complaints.
Bondi, who noted she has no authority over airlines, said she talked to two airlines about ticket prices and that both told her they were putting caps on some tickets.
Here are important links to keep handy as you prepare for Irma. Know your evacuation zones, by visiting FloridaDisaster.org. Track the storm and get your FOX 35 Hurricane Guide at OrlandoHurricane.com. You can view and download the Hurricane Guide (PDF) by clicking here.
Watch the latest on Hurricane Irma now:
This is the first Category 5 storm of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season.
Until we know whether the hurricane is hitting it or not, it is crucial to get your hurricane kits prepared now.
The Florida Department of Emergency Management recommends that you gather:
See where to get sandbags here.
See what schools are closed here.
See a list of emergency numbers: http://bit.ly/2j8B3oK
Track the storm here with the latest photos, projections, and more.