A tornado watch will be in effect until at least noon. The National Weather Service's Miami office issued a flood warning at 4:40 a.m. There was no immediate word on any damage or injuries.
"This is your last chance to make a good decision".
The storm's eyewall reached the chain of islands Sunday morning.
Irma at one time was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, a Category 5 with a peak wind speed of 185 miles per hour (300 kph). Petersburg after swamping Florida's Keys and pummeling Miami on Sunday.
But that soon changed.
Irma, one of the fiercest Atlantic storms in a century, was expected to rip through Florida's southern archipelago on Sunday morning.
"This is a life-threatening situation", the center said.
That was the case for Chris Cardona, 54, and his wife Laurie, who left their mobile home near Miami on Thursday to seek refuge with friends near Tampa.More news: Hillary Stands By Her 'Deplorables' Remark
Hurricane Irma first struck the dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda on Wednesday.
'We are pretty clear, when you surrender your animal you give up your rights, ' Dianne Sauve, the director of Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Customers said on Saturday that they received the cancellations only after evacuations had begun in their neighborhoods and local markets' shelves had emptied.
Hurricane Irma left widespread human and economic havoc in a string of tourism dependent Caribbean islands as the storm pulsed into Florida on Sunday.
And hurricane-force winds are expected to lash the state as Irma rolls north toward Georgia.
The hurricane is threatening nearly the entire southeastern USA state of Florida after cutting a deadly path of destruction through the Caribbean.
Tides moire than 3 feet higher than normal were reported Sunday afternoon in Miami Beach, likely the result of storm surge.
Following the storm, some residents described looting and said people were walking around with machetes to cut trees down. Motorists heading inland from the Tampa area were allowed to drive on the shoulders.
Irma provided another reminder of what hurricanes have done to the state's ecosystem. Almost 45,000 people had lost power, mostly in and around Miami and Fort Lauderdale, as the wind began gusting.More news: Lions Rookie WR Kenny Golladay is KILLING IT
It has already wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, where it killed at least 27 people, and caused significant damage to Cuba on Saturday. Irma is expected to hit Key West sometime around sunrise.
The Florida Keys are the first bit of USA soil to feel the effects of the storm.
"Tonight, I'm sweating, " she said.
"Well we're about to get punched in the face", Buckhorn said. The governor activated all 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard, and 10,000 guardsmen from elsewhere were being deployed.
Major tourist attractions, including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World, all prepared to close Saturday. The Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando airports shut down.
The live stream at Key West has proved a big hit online, and this is one of the reasons why.
Hurricane Andrew smashed into suburban Miami in 1992 with winds topping 165 miles per hour (265 kph), damaging or blowing apart over 125,000 homes.
Meanwhile, search-and-rescue teams located in Orlando and other staging areas were waiting out the storm until it was safe enough to go out and assess the extent of the damage and injuries.More news: Explosive used by IS found in France apartment
A group of women sit in the cafeteria awaiting room assignments at a shelter within the Pizzo Elementary School in Tampa, Florida, September 9, 2017, where Tampa residents are fleeing the evacuation zones ahead of Hurricane Irma's landfall.
- Destiny 2: Raid, Xur and More Events Dated In New Roadmap
- Aaron Donald ends holdout, still out Week 1 for Rams
- Moon: Temporary THAAD Deployment Best Possible Measure
- John McCain Says His Brain Cancer Prognosis "Is Pretty Good"
- Man City vs. Liverpool all about absentees Sterling and Coutinho
- Gap to close 200 stores, open others
- CNN report says Joe Paterno knew of prior Sandusky abuse claims
- "Coming back to Paris was key" claims Mbappe at PSG unveiling
- Man Utd ace Lukaku 'very grateful for second Mourinho opportunity'
- Donald Trump Jr. to Meet in Private With Senate Judiciary Committee