The head of the US federal emergency agency has warned "the entire south-eastern United States better wake up and pay attention" to the incoming hurricane as 6.3m people are asked to evacuate Florida.
Brock Long said Hurricane Irma will "devastate" either Florida or neighbouring states and that parts of Florida would be without power for days. Half a million people in the state have been ordered to leave their homes.
"Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States in either Florida or some of the south-eastern states," Mr Long said.
As Hurricane Irma heads across the Caribbean towards the American mainland, it was reported that the death toll had moved up to 23 with four more deaths occurring in the British Virgin Islands and 1.2m being impacted by the extreme weather. As of Friday noon (local time), the storm was battering Northern Cuba and the southern Bahamas, its last mainland stop before it reaches Florida.
With winds still reaching 150mph, there is a growing fear that the storm will intensify before it makes landfall – the warm waters around Florida could reinvigorate Irma from a category four storm back to five, its strength when it struck Barbuda and Antigua earlier during the week.
Some meterologists were noting that with both Irma and Hurricane Jose currently at the same strength, natural history was being made in the Atlantic:
It was also pointed out that the eye of the hurricane had doubled in size:
Hurricane Jose, which is following in the path of Irma and is expected to strike communities across the Caribbean who are still attempting to clean up, has now grown to a category four storm, the US National Weather Service announced.
In Florida, governor Rick Scott raised the possibility that all 20 million Floridians should be ready to evacuate the state, if necessary. Even Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, has been ordered to evacuate along with all of the Florida Keys.
More than 100,000 Palm Beach County residents were given mandatory evacuation alerts on Thursday night and Friday morning, and more than a million people ordered to leave their homes along coastal areas, mostly from the densely populated Miami-Dade County.
The storm surge also could be deadly across southern Florida and the Florida Keys during the next 36 hours. The threat of significant storm surge flooding along the southwest coast of Florida has now increased, with 6 to 12 feet of inundation above ground level possible in this area.
The National Hurricane Center says this is a life-threatening situation, so everyone in these areas should take all actions to evacuate before rising water makes it impossible.
Governor Scott also said that traffic officials have decided against reversing the direction of southbound lanes because they still need to move gas and supplies south. A massive evacuation has clogged Florida's major highways.
Scott says most of the state will have hurricane impacts and “we are running out of time — the storm is almost here.” They will be opening up the shoulders to drivers on Interstate 75 from Wildwood, where the Florida turnpike ends, to the Georgia state line.
The National Weather Service of Florida's Key West sent an unusually blunt and urgent Twitter message to residents who may be considering staying in the area.
One rare piece of good news came from the US Army Corps of Engineers, who told Florida's governor that the structural integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike containing Lake Okeechobee “will not be compromised” by Hurricane Irma. But voluntary evacuations for communities surrounding the lake's southern half are now mandatory, because it's possible Irma's winds will push water over the dike.
President Donald Trump meanwhile urged people to “be safe” as Irma approached. On Twitter Friday, Trump wrote, “Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen. Be safe and get out of its way, if possible.”
Trump added that the federal government is ready, and in another tweet, he said: “Our incredible U.S. Coast Guard saved more than 15,000 lives last week with Harvey. Irma could be even tougher. We love our Coast Guard!”