Floridians flee ahead of Irma

A police car passes a boarded-up hotel on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, where thousands are fleeing ahead of the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irma. (Bloomberg Photo)

MIAMI: The window for Florida residents to safely evacuate narrowed on Saturday as the outer bands of Hurricane Irma blew into the southern part of the state on a predicted path for landfall southwest of the heavily populated Miami metro area.

The enormous storm weakened slightly to Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 215 km/h, but it was expected to pick up strength again as it takes aim at Florida. The storm was forecast to reach the Florida Keys on Sunday morning local time before moving up the state's Gulf Coast.

The US National Weather Service said damaging winds were moving into areas including Key Biscayne and Coral Gables on Saturday morning, while gusts of up to 90 km/h were reported on Virginia Key off Miami.

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