It hit Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m.as a Category 4 storm. "It is just really a horrendous situation".
He said roads and telecommunications systems were wrecked and recovery would take months, if not years.
The storm will be devastating for central Florida, Tampa, Fort Myers and Key West, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
Stroud was with her husband, Tim Stroud, and granddaughter, Sierra Costello. Many of their neighbors' homes were damaged and once-dense vegetation was largely gone.
"There are no leaves". "It will take years for this community to get back on its feet". France sent emergency food and water rations there and to the French island of St. Bart's, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out all electricity.
There have been no reports of injuries or deaths.
By Thursday morning, the center of the storm was about 110 miles (180 kilometers) north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and was moving west-northwest near 17 mph (28 kph). Fallen trees and power poles can isolate residential areas, and power outages in some areas can last for months.
The tiny island of Culebra reported sustained winds of 88 miles per hour and wind gusts of 110 miles per hour.
Hurricane Irma passed through the southeastern Bahamas' Grand Inagua Island as a Category 4 hurricane on Friday, on its way toward South Florida.
Forecasters said Irma could hit the Tampa-St.
A woman looks at empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Scott urged residents to stock up on water and food and to learn the locations of local emergency shelters.
"No matter what precautions we take, the coastal flooding will impact oil tanks", said Catherine McCabe, a regional administrator. Some locals grumbled about the forecast, even though Florida's west coast had always been included in the zone of probability. She said EPA officials in New Jersey were on standby to fly down after the hurricane passed through.
Hugo, the last powerful hurricane to landfall directly on the shores of SC, hit the state in September 1989 and remains a topic of discussion.
Expected to b even more risky than the powerful winds are the storm surges that threaten Florida's coastal cities. "It's going to be bad". Party stretches including Duval Street in Key West and Ocean Drive in Miami Beach were shuttered. A 2-year-old child was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm, Browne told the AP. "It's insane", she said. The Key West International Airport measured sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (80 kph) with a gust of up to 70 miles per hour (113 kph), according to the hurricane center.
McMaster declared the state of emergency following the National Hurricane Center's forecast that Irma's path shifted east, just off Florida's coast, with the possibility of hitting Georgia and the Carolinas.
There is a high rip current risk for the coast for Sunday.
By early Sunday, Irma is expected to hit Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott said he planned to activate 7,000 National Guard soldiers by Friday and warned that Irma is "bigger, faster and stronger" than Hurricane Andrew.
"This system is so large that even as it's pulling away from Puerto Rico, they're still dealing with the effects", Durda said.
As the storm continues to move toward the continental United States, the National Hurricane Center on Thursday night issued a hurricane warning for South Florida and the Florida Keys. Forecasters said the greater Miami area of 6 million people could still get life-threatening hurricane winds and storm surge of 4 to 6 feet. "While the track is still uncertain, the time to prepare is now", the Weather Channel warned.
The State Department authorized voluntary evacuation of USA diplomats and their families from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.
Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region, but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which usually have warmer waters.
The hurricane warning for Florida's west coast has been extended to the Aucilla River, just south of Tallahassee, and the watch pushed west to Indian Pass on Florida's Panhandle.
About 30,000 people heeded orders to evacuate the Keys as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused to leave, in part because to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.
The website cruisecritic.com said 28 cruises had been canceled, shortened or had their itineraries changed as a result of the hurricane.
- A storm surge warning wraps around the state, from Brevard County to Tampa Bay.
The government of the Dominican Republic discontinued a hurricane warning for the country's north coast. "Because when it gets close, it's too late", McMaster said.
Another tropical storm farther east in the Atlantic became a hurricane Wednesday evening. "While we hope we never see a hurricane head our way, we all need prepare for the possible effects". Airports in the area reported powerful winds, including a sustained wind of 55 mph (88 kph) and a gust of 82 mph (132 kph) at Naples Municipal Airport, and a sustained wind of 63 mph (102 kph) and a gust of 84 mph (135 kph) at Opa-Locka Executive Airport.