TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Rick Scott on Monday placed all of Florida under a state of emergency as the projected path of Hurricane Irma could take the powerful storm toward the southern tip of the state by the end of the week.
The declaration is intended to give local governments in all 67 counties time to prepare, the governor's office said.
“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared,” Scott said in a statement.
“Today, given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm, I have declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and make sure resources are dispersed to local communities as we get prepared for this storm,” he added.
Scott has been advising people the past couple of days --- through Twitter --- to prepare for the storm by visiting the Florida Department of Emergency Management's disaster page: floridadisaster.org/getaplan/.
“Families should take time today to make sure you have a disaster plan and fully-stocked disaster supply kit,” Scott tweeted on Monday. “I am continuing to coordinate with emergency management officials as we monitor Hurricane Irma.”
Director of Holmes County Emergency Management Wendy Mayo encourages residents to be prepared "just in case."
"I urge our residents and business owners to review their plans and check their supply kits and ensure they stay tuned to local news and adhere to the warnings and watches being issued," said Mayo. "It’s been over a decade since Holmes County has been affected by a hurricane, but don’t be complacent. Take this seriously to ensure your safety and the safety of your family."
Lynne Abel, Public Safety Director for Washington County's Emergency Operations Center, states the EOC is continuing to monitor the storm and is making preliminary preparations for "quick action" should the hurricane threaten the area. Abel is urging local residents to be prepared as well.
"We encourage residents to monitor local media outlets and begin to prepare to ensure life safety and property protection," said Abel. "If you plan to stay at home, you must understand that significant impacts from the storm could prohibit emergency responders from reaching your family for several days. It’s important to have adequate food and medical supplies on hand. Local Shelters are 'shelters of last resort'; they are not designed for comfort or privacy. We encourage everyone to have an alternate plan for lodging with family, friends or at a hotel outside the immediate area."
Hurricane Irma strengthened into a dangerous Category 5 storm Tuesday as it roared toward the northeast Caribbean on a path that could take it to the United States.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma had sustained winds of 175mph (280 kph) and was centered about 270 miles (440 kilometers) east of Antigua. It was moving west at 14 mph (22 kph).
The center said there was a growing possibility that the storm's effects could be felt in Florida later this week and over the weekend, though it was still too early to be sure of its future track: "Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place."
Irma's center was expected to move near or over the northern Leeward Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, the hurricane center said. The eye was then expected to pass about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Puerto Rico late Wednesday.
The National Hurricane Center said Monday that while it's too early to determine where the storm will go, “There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend.”
Irma threatens Florida little more than a year after Hurricane Hermine made landfall in Northwest Florida. Hermine was the first hurricane to hit the state in more than a decade.
The new storm also threatens amid recovery efforts in Texas after the catastrophic Hurricane Harvey.
“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” Scott said in Monday's statement. “This state of emergency allows our emergency management officials to act swiftly in the best interest of Floridians without the burden of bureaucracy or red tape.”
News and Times Editor Carol Kent Wyatt contributed to this report.