Hurricane Irma hurtled toward Cuba and the Bahamas on Friday after leaving a trail of devastation in the Caribbean, while an anxious South Florida and Miami prepared for what could be a major hit by the weekend.
Irma, downgraded to Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph, slammed the Turks and Caicos archipelago early Friday before its powerful core headed between northern Cuba and central Bahamas, reports CNN.
At least 18 people were killed this week as Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people -- nearly 70 per cent of the US territory's utility customers -- were left without power, the governor's office said.
Irma is expected be near South Florida by Saturday night or early Sunday as at least a Category 4 hurricane, and residents there have begun a mass exodus. Some counties are under evacuation orders, but "all Floridians should be prepared to evacuate soon," Gov. Rick Scott said Friday.
"Today is the day to do the right thing for your family. Get inland for safety," Scott said at a news conference.
At its peak, Irma sustained maximum wind speeds of 185 mph, making it one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record. The Red Cross estimates 1.2 million people have already been battered by the storm and warned it poses a threat to millions more.