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Reports: 5.6 million asked to evacuate Florida before arrival of Major Hurricane Irma

The largest evacuation in US history is underway as millions of people across the Southeast brace for the life-threatening impacts of Irma.

A state of emergency has been declared in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia ahead of the arrival of Irma to prepare for the storm.

"Irma is only one of five known hurricanes during the satellite era to have reached sustained winds of 185 mph or higher," said AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

The first evacuations were issued on Wednesday in the Florida Keys, but more followed across the state on Thursday and Friday. At least 5.6 million people have been asked to evacuate which is more than 25 percent of the state’s population.

Irma traffic Fri eve AP

Heavy traffic on Interstate 75 moves slowly, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Forrest Park, South of Atlanta. A massive evacuation has clogged Florida's major highways. So what they are doing is opening up the shoulders to drivers on Interstate 75 from Wildwood, where the Florida turnpike ends, to the Georgia state line. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has suspended tolls across the state's highways to expedite the evacuation and supply-gathering process for residents. Additionally, all schools and government offices are closed in Florida on Monday.
The islands of Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin and Anguilla in the northern Leeward Islands took a direct hit from Irma on Wednesday morning. Irma's 150 mph-plus winds and at least 12-foot storm surge caused catastrophic damage.

So far, Irma has killed at least 20 people in the Caribbean, the AP reported. Another person was killed in Florida after falling 15 feet while putting up storm shutters.

Click here to see previous reports of how Florida is preparing for Irma.

11:00 p.m. EDT Friday: Irma has made landfall in central Cuba as a Category 5 hurricane. It has maximum sustained winds of 160 mph.

10:40 p.m. EDT Friday: The power is reportedly out in Caibarién and other towns along Cuba's northern coast.

Two of Florida's power plants say there are prepared for Irma's coming wrath. Florida Power and Light control both in St. Lucie and Turkey Point. The president of FPL says there are some of the "the strongest structures in the world," encased in six feet of cement and reinforced in steel.

9:30 p.m. EDT Friday: The eye of Hurricane Irma is nearing the coast of Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. This makes it a strong Category 4 hurricane, just shy of Category 5 status.

Meanwhile, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has issued a state of emergency, becoming the sixth state to do so ahead of Irma's arrival in the United States.

7:40 p.m. EDT Friday: Officials have ordered 5.6 million people to evacuate Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma, according to the Associated Press. This is more than 25 percent of the state's population.

This is now the largest evacuation in United States history, more than Hurricane Rita in 2005 when 3.7 million people were told to evacuate.

Some highways around Miami had very little traffic throughout the day as many people have evacuated the city.

5:45 p.m EDT Friday: The National Weather Service in Key West is warning residents of the Florida Keys that the time to evacuate is quickly running out.

"Catastrophic, life-threatening wind and storm surge impacts are expected in the Florida Keys Saturday night and Sunday. Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe," the NWS Office said.

Meanwhile, the state of emergency has been expanded in Georgia to include 94 of Georgia’s 159 counties.

3:34 p.m. EDT Friday: Florida Gov. Rick Scott is not only worried about wind speed and rain, he is emphasizing the dangers of storm surge.

3:01 p.m. EDT Friday: Major Orlando attractions have announced closures ahead of Irma's impact:

Walt Disney World will close early on Saturday evening and stay closed on Sunday and Monday.
Universal Orlando will close at 7 p.m. on Saturday and remain on closed Sunday and Monday.
Sea World Orlando will also close early on Saturday and stay closed on Sunday and Monday.

2:58 p.m. EDT Friday: South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said in a press conference on Friday afternoon that he’s holding off on deciding whether to evacuate the state’s coast.

McMaster said he will wait for the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. advisory before announcing his decision, but that state officials are prepared to evacuate if need be.

"Until we say otherwise, coastal residents should plan on evacuating Saturday at 10 a.m.," he said. "That may change at 6 o'clock this evening."

For some counties, McMaster rescinded part of an executive order that required medical facilities to evacuate.