Hurricane Andrew was one of the worst storms in U.S. history - Irma could be worse.
Mandatory evacuations began on Wednesday for visitors to Monroe County, which encompasses the southernmost point of the state, including the Florida Keys.
Hurricane Irma is "bigger, faster and stronger" than Hurricane Andrew, the devastating Category 5 hurricane that trounced the Sunshine State a quarter-century ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned on Wednesday.
Hurricane Andrew, which made landfall in Homestead, Fla., in 1992, left a path of destruction in its wake, costing $25.5 billion in damage and leaving 65 dead. Another 43 indirect deaths were attributed to Andrew, according to Weather.com.
It was one of only three Category 5 hurricanes on record to make landfall in the continental United States.
But Scott was adamant on Wednesday: Irma could be worse.
“We are being very aggressive in our preparation for this storm, and every Floridian should take this seriously and be aggressive to protect their family,” Scott said during a news conference.
Mandatory evacuations began on Wednesday for visitors to Monroe County, which encompasses the southernmost point of the state, including the Florida Keys. A mandatory evacuation has been issued for residents of the county as of Wednesday evening.
In Miami-Dade County, those with special needs and residents living in low-lying areas began leaving on Wednesday morning.
“Do not ignore evacuation orders,” Scott said. “Remember: We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life.”
Scott warned parts of the Florida Keys could feel the impact of the storm as early as Saturday, with the rest of the state taking the brunt of Irma on Sunday.
As South Floridians scramble to prepare for Irma’s impact, many supermarkets have struggled to keep up with demand, leaving many store shelves barren and gas pumps empty.
On social media, Floridians posted pictures of vacant grocery store shelves, while others said they drove for over an hour to find gas.
On Wednesday morning, the Broward Sheriff’s Office tweeted out a photo of a line of people waiting for a Publix Supermarket to restock with water.
“Ahead of #HurricaneIrma at the @Publix in Fort Lauderdale, FL, empty shelves where there should be water, paper towels and toilet paper,” Justin Michaels, a Weather.com reporter, tweeted.
Scott said he was aware of the water shortage at some retailers and said the state was working with the supermarkets to restock water and fuel as quickly as possible. He asked the media to help notify his office of locations that had run out of water or fuel.
“While retailers are working as quickly as possible, we ask that you be considerate of neighbors,” Scott said. “Take what you need but only what you need.”
Schools in Miami-Dade, Broward, Collier, Lee, Indian River, Martin, Hernando and St. Lucie counties announced they would be closed starting on Thursday. Schools in Monroe County had closed as of Wednesday.
Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and Florida International University in Miami canceled classes from Wednesday until Sunday in preparation for the storm.
By Wednesday, the only major airport announcing a suspension in operations was Key West International Airport. Two others, Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, both posted on Twitter that while they were monitoring Irma, operations had not been affected.
On Tuesday, Scott activated 100 members of the Florida Air and Army National Guard to assist the state with logistics and planning as Irma loomed off the state’s eastern coast.
He said on Wednesday that he had activated another 900 members throughout the state, and by Friday the remaining 6,000 members would be reporting for duty.
Members of the North Carolina National Guard had begun assisting with evacuations from hospitals in the Florida Keys.
Scott said President Donald Trump had approved a pre-landfall emergency declaration for Florida in order to free up federal funding for the state as necessary.
In anticipation of the rising floodwaters, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District began releasing water from Lake Okeechobee, the state's largest freshwater reserve, and the South Florida Water Management District began lowering water levels in canals to prevent overflowing.