Forecasters predict the eye of Hurricane Irma will make landfall over the Florida Keys and from there will track north over the west coast of the Sunshine State, threatening cities like Tampa Bay.
The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center said Irma has weakened to a Category 4 storm after it made landfall in Cuba late last night with 130 miles-per-hour sustained maximum winds. However, parts of southern Florida still face dangerous wind and rainfall conditions, as well as "life-threatening" storm surge. In the Keys alone, 5 to 10 feet of storm surge is possible.
The outer bands from the storm have already begun to reach the southernmost parts of the state, and the NHC predicts it will strengthen before making landfall.
More 5.6 million residents have been ordered to evacuate and officials say 20,000 people are already without power. Economics predict up to $200 billion worth of damage.
Even before the eye was predicted to be making heading towards the area – the most dangerous part of the storm is near the eye, where the most intense winds are usually found – the National Weather Service issued a stern message Friday afternoon to Key West residents that with the coming of Hurricane Irma they need to evacuate because "this is as real as it gets."
"Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe," the NWS Key West account said in a tweet in all caps. "You still have time to evacuate."
With more than 20 people killed in connection to the storm in the Caribbean, Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned residents not to take a risk if they have been ordered to evacuate.
"If you've been ordered to evacuate, you need to leave now," Scott said in a press conference Saturday morning. "Do not wait. Evacuate. Not tonight. Not in an hour. You need to go right now."
He also cautioned of the often underestimated threat of storm surge, which could reach 6 to 12 feet in some places.
"You will not survive all of the storm surge," he said "This is a life-threatening situation."