WASHINGTON: Millions of people, including thousands of Indian-Americans, in Florida braced for Hurricane Irma regained its strength as a category 4 storm as it aimed towards the coastal US state with wind speed of 209 km per hours.
About 120,000 Indian-Americans live in Florida, thousands of them residing in the now-dangerous zones of Miami, Fort Laura deal and even Tampa, according to 2010 census.
Many struggled to cope with Irma, which regained strength as a Category 4 storm as it moved towards Florida.
The deadly storm is expected to hit the US mainland around 7 am (local time). Its outer rain bands lashed the Florida Keys today, the National Weather Service said. A 127 kmph gust was recorded today as Irma drew closer, CNN reported.
Miami and Tampa appeared "ghost towns" as residents left for safer places following mandatory evacuation notices.
The Indian embassy has opened a round-the-clock helpline number and was rushing senior diplomats to Atlanta to lead relief efforts for Indian-Americans stuck in the region.
The Indian Friends of Atlanta - in association with the Consulate-General of India, the Gujarat Samaj Atlanta and the Hindu Temple of Atlanta - has announced to operationalise three shelters.
They were preparing to open more shelters and provide accommodation and food as several Indian businesses started contributing to relief efforts.
Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna was closely monitoring the situation, officials said.
Sandeep Chakravorty, India's consul-general in New York, was monitoring the situation through a 24X7 control room set up in Atlanta.
US President Donald Trump reviewed preparedness with his cabinet colleagues at Camp David in Maryland. He asked federal agencies to continue supporting state and local authorities and expedite assistance to areas affected by the hurricane.
"This is a storm of enormous destructive power, and I ask everyone in the storm's path to pay heed to all instructions from government officials," Trump said.
Florida Governor Rick Scott asked people to move out of the danger zones as soon as possible. "The state has never seen anything like this. The storm's surge can kill you."
The US Army has so far deployed more than 7,400 soldiers and US Army Corps of Engineers civilians on the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the continental US.
The army has more than 140 aircraft, 650 trucks, 150 boats prepared, additional resources on standby, the Pentagon said.
AccuWeather warned Irma will unleash destructive winds, flooding, rain and inundating seas across Florida.
"Unfortunately, there is no way the US is going to avoid another catastrophic weather event," said Joel N Myers, founder, president and chairman of AccuWeather.
"There will be massive damage in Florida. [It will be] the worst single hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992," Myers said.
The current track of Irma will bring severe and life-threatening impacts to all of the Florida Keys and a large portion of the Florida Peninsula, including Key West, Key Largo, Tampa, Fort Myers, Naples, Sarasota and Miami.