ARLINGTON, Va. -- Hurricane Irma, a monster storm packing winds up to 185 mph, was hovering Wednesday over Caribbean islands as Florida National Guard members began preparing for a possible hit and residents started evacuating.
Air and Army National Guard members have been mobilized in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which are in the path of the Category 5 storm.
"As we prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Irma, I want our Airmen, their families and our community to know the Puerto Rico Air National Guard stands ready and prepared. We are trained to deal with natural disasters when called upon by the Governor and follow his directives," said Col. Raymond Figueroa, commander of the 156th Airlift Wing.
In Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott mobilized 1000 Guard Soldiers and Airmen, all 7,000 Guard members are to report for duty on Friday. Scott already declared a state of emergency and urged residents to heed warnings and be prepared. On Wednesday, the state adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Michael A. Calhoun, echoed that advice.
"As Hurricane Irma moves closer to our state, I truly hope that everyone takes Gov. Rick Scott's call to action seriously. The men and women of your Florida National Guard are ready and prepared to respond -- are you?" Calhoun said.
"Irma is a very serious threat and you need to make sure your family is prepared with enough food, water, and essential supplies for at least three days," he continued. "Have an evacuation plan -- Where will you go? What is your route? Who will you keep updated? Your preparedness ensures that your Guard personnel and equipment can respond where the need is the greatest. We will be there to help, but I ask that you help us by being as ready as we are."
"With Hurricane Irma now a Category 5 storm, we must do all we can to prepare our families and communities for any potential impact from this major weather event," Scott told Florida residents and visitors. "We do not know the exact path of this storm, but weather can change in an instant and while we hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst."
Late Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia declared a state of emergency in six counties due to the approaching storm and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an emergency declaration for all 46 of the state's counties, which enables state agencies to better coordinate their responses.
Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that more than 45,000 Guard members are engaged worldwide - including 1,200 fighting wildfires in California, Montana and Oregon, more than 19,000 Texas Guard and supporting states responding to Hurricane Harvey's devastation, and nearly 13,000 mobilized and supporting the combatant commands overseas.