Millions of people, including thousands of Indian-Americans, in Florida braced for "life-threatening" Hurricane Irma which hit the state's southern islands today as a category four storm after leaving a trail of destruction across the Caribbean.
A sudden shift in the trajectory of the storm, the eye of the hurricane is now expected to touch land not in Miami but in Florida Keys in the far south, moving towards Naples, Fort Mayers and the Tampa Bay on the west coast. This has made evacuation and other preparations challenging, according to the National Hurricane Centre (NHC).
Hours before the arrival of Irma, which is advancing with winds of about 200 km per hour and copious rainfall, a massive outage had left tens of thousands of people without power in southern Florida, reports Efe news.
The authorities had ordered the evacuation of more than five million people from the most vulnerable areas, especially along the shoreline, where Irma is expected to raise tide levels by up to 16 feet, leading to massive flooding in some areas along the coastline.
The state has been bracing for the arrival of Irma for days now on an emergency footing and thousands of people have left the most vulnerable counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach for safer areas, while those who stayed have been spending days fortifying their properties against the onslaught of the hurricane.
On Saturday night, Irma unleashed strong tornadoes in southern Florida while its eye was still on the coast of Cuba and even though it had lost some of its strength.
So far, at least 36 million people were under hurricane warning, CNN reported.
"If you have been ordered to evacuate, you need to leave now. This is your last chance to make a good decision," Florida Governor Rick Scott said at a news briefing on Saturday evening.
The major concern for Florida was the storm surge, which is like a sustained high tide that can cause devastating flooding, warning that it could reach as high as 15 feet in some areas.
A storm surge warning is in place for the Florida Keys, Tampa Bay, and an extensive stretch of coastline, wrapping most of the way around the state. At 11 on Saturday night, it was extended as far west as the Ochlockonee river.
"You can't survive these storm surges...You've got to get out. You've got to evacuate. This storm is coming. Once the storm's here, we can't evacuate anybody," Governor Scott added.