Florida residents picked store shelves clean and long lines formed at gas pumps Wednesday as Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 monster with potentially catastrophic winds of 185 mph, steamed toward the Sunshine State and a possible direct hit on the Miami metropolitan area of nearly 6 million people, per the AP. The most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic destroyed homes and flooded streets as it roared through a chain of small islands in the northern Caribbean. Meteorologists said Irma could strike the Miami area by early Sunday, then rake the entire length of Florida's east coast, and push into Georgia and the Carolinas.
"This thing is a buzz saw. I'm glad Floridians are taking it very seriously," said Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach. "I don't see any way out of it." At the same time, meteorologists warned that the forecast this far out contains a large degree of uncertainty. As a result, Florida residents and tourists received different messages from state and local authorities about when to evacuate and where to go. Republican Gov. Rick Scott waived tolls on all Florida highways and told people if they were thinking about leaving to "get out now." But in the same breath, he acknowledged that "it's hard to tell people where to go until we know exactly where it will go." (Read more Hurricane Irma stories.)