Officials in the Florida Keys are set to order tourists to evacuate the islands Wednesday, with another evacuation directive for residents expected soon as Hurricane Irma barrels toward the peninsula.
"If ever there was a storm to take seriously in the Keys, this is it," Martin Senterfitt, the emergency management director for Monroe County, said in a statement. "The sooner people leave, the better."
The mandatory evacuation order for visitors is set to begin Wednesday morning at sunrise and comes as concerns grow over Irma's possible path, which appears aimed at south Florida.
Monroe County officials said Tuesday that they will also issue a mandatory evacuation order for residents, though the timing for such a directive has yet to be determined.
While the evacuation order for tourists doesn't go into effect until early Wednesday, county officials are encouraging people to leave as soon as possible to avoid traffic congestion.
The National Hurricane Center on Tuesday upgraded Irma to a Category 5 storm — the most powerful class of hurricane — and warned of "life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards" to U.S. territories in the Caribbean.
The storm's exact path remains unclear, and it is too early to know what impacts it will have on the continental U.S., the National Hurricane Center said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has declared a state of emergency affecting all of Florida's 67 counties.
In Monroe, Florida's southernmost county, government offices are expected to shut down on Wednesday with only essential county employees, emergency management and fire rescue personnel remaining on the job.
Schools are also set to close on Wednesday.
The looming threat from Hurricane Irma comes a week after Hurricane Harvey struck southeast Texas, leaving dozens of people dead and creating billions of dollars in damage across the Gulf Coast.