By David Bowden, Senior News Correspondent in Florida, and Ceren Senkul, News Reporter
Around 5.6 million Florida residents have been ordered to evacuate the state as Hurricane Irma gets closer.
The category five storm has already moved through the Caribbean and the British Virgin Islands, killing at least 22 people and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
The deadly hurricane carries winds of up to 155mph and could travel from one end of Florida to the other when it is expected to hit near Key West early on Sunday.
Its path could also take in Georgia and South Carolina.
Forecasters adjusted the storm’s potential path more toward the west coast of Florida, away from the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people, meaning “a less costly, a less deadly storm,” University of Miami researcher Brian McNoldy said.
However, they warned that the strong winds were so wide they could reach from coast to coast.
“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” National Hurricane Centre meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said.
“Everybody’s going to feel this one.”
As residents tried to evacuate in their droves, motorways became gridlocked and petrol stations were inundated.
Manny Zuniga was on the road for 12 hours trying to reach Orlando from his home in Miami – a journey which usually takes four hours.
“We’re getting out of this state… Irma is going to take all of Florida,” he said.
More than a quarter of the state’s population was ordered to leave, one of the largest-scale evacuations in its history.
Experts say Hurricane Irma could be the most serious test of Florida’s storm endurance since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which damaged 125,000 homes and killed 40 people.
If you are in the Keys, I am urging you to leave right now. Do not risk your life or the lives of your loved ones- get out now.
— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) September 9, 2017
“If you are planning to leave and do not leave tonight, you will have to ride out this extremely dangerous storm at your own risk,” Florida governor Rick Scott said.
“We are running out of time. If you are in an evacuation zone, you need to go now. This is a catastrophic storm like our state has never seen.”
Hundreds of shelters were opened for people who stayed, with hotels filling up as far away as Atlanta, which is almost 500 miles north.
Several hundred residents and their pets have sought refuge at an exhibition centre in Miami, one of the few places that allows animals.
Gloria, a grandmother, has moved in with her husband, her two daughters and their husbands, her grandson, two dogs and four birds.
“We thought we could stay at home, but after they said it was going to be worse than Andrew, we went through Andrew, we decided to come and be safe here.”
President Trump warned on Friday that Hurricane Irma could have “absolutely historic destructive potential”.
“Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our people. We are doing everything we can to help with disaster preparations and, when the time comes, recover and rebuild together as Americans.”
Forecasters have predicted a storm surge of 6 to 12 feet above ground level along Florida’s southwest coast and in the Keys, with as much as a foot of rainfall across the state.
With winds that peaked at 185 mph (300 kph), Irma is one of the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic.
Irma is being followed by category four hurricane Jose, which is expected to affect the Bahamas and Bermuda but is not forecast to make landfall in the US.