UPDATE 1 – Florida Keys ordered to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma

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A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for visitors to the Florida Keys ahead of potential impacts from Hurricane Irma, county officials said on Tuesday. People who live on the islands will be evacuated later this week.

The Monroe County Emergency Management Agency said the mandatory evacuation for tourists would begin at sunrise on Wednesday. Authorities are also preparing to issue a mandatory evacuation order for residents, but the exact timing has yet to be determined.

“If ever there was a storm to take seriously in the Keys, this is it,” Martin Senterfitt, the director of the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency, said in an emailed statement. “The sooner people leave, the better.”

Visitors with near-term plans to travel to the Florida Keys must postpone them until the storm passes and an infrastructure assessment can be completed, the agency said. Government offices, county parks, and schools will be closed from Wednesday.

The agency encourages both tourists and residents to fill their tanks with fuel and complete their evacuation plans. There will be no shelters in Monroe County to ride out the storm and the county’s three hospitals have begun plans to evacuate their patients.

Irma, which rapidly intensified on Tuesday and became an extremely dangerous category 5 hurricane, is expected to be close to Florida on Sunday, although uncertainty remains about how close to the state the storm will come. Irma should still be a major hurricane at that time.

“The chance of direct impacts from Irma later this week and this weekend is increasing in the Florida Keys and portions of the Florida Peninsula,” the National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday. “However, it is too soon to specify the timing and magnitude of the impacts.”

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a statewide state of emergency on Monday to ensure that local communities are prepared. On Tuesday, Governor Scott directed all 7,000 National Guard members to report for duty on Friday morning.

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