Hurricane watch issued for South Florida ahead of Irma

MIAMI — A hurricane watch was issued for parts of Florida Thursday morning as Category 5 storm Irma with 175 mph winds moved closer to the state, the National Hurricane Center said.

As of noon MDT Thursday, maximum sustained winds were 175 mph and the storm was moving at 16 mph.

Irma was off the northern coast of Hispaniola and moving toward the Turk and Caicos Islands, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Irma should be near the southeastern Bahamas by this evening.

Florida is under a state of emergency, with impact from Irma expected by late Saturday with potential landfall on Sunday.

The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane watches for the Florida Keys, Naples, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Officials said 31,000 people have evacuated the Florida Keys and Gov. Rick Scott is asking for 17,000 volunteers.

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Some of Florida’s gas stations have been left dry, something Scott has become a “top priority.”

“I have been very clear to the retailers,” Scott said at a news conference. “We have to get the fuel as fast as we can out so people can evacuate.”

The governor is asking the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House to waive restrictions to get as much fuel to Florida as possible before the storm arrives.

“We know fuel is very important, and we are devoting every state resource to this,” Scott said. “I know this has to be very frustrating, and we won’t stop working on this.”

Current models show the storm going along Florida’s east coast, but the state’s west coast still will have hurricane conditions, Scott said.

“Look at the size of this storm,” Scott said. “It’s huge. Regardless of which coast you live on, be prepared to evacuate.”