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Trump declares emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

By Allen Cone and Danielle Haynes
1/5
Trump declares emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
Carts loaded with wood to be used for shutters are stacked up waiting for drivers to load their vehicles from the Home Depot in Delray Beach, Fla., on Tuesday. Residents are preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Irma later this week. Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 5 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared a federal emergency for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are potentially in the path of Hurricane Irma, the White House said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott had asked Trump to make the declaration, which would make federal funds available as the areas prepare for the potentially destructive storm. Irma strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane Tuesday.

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At a briefing Tuesday evening, Scott said Trump "offered the full resources of the federal government as we get ready for this major storm." He added the state government was "not aware" of any gas shortages.

Earlier in the day, Scott activated the Florida Air and Army National Guard, with 100 members called up immediately and all 7,000 members told to report for duty Friday morning.

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Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties as Irma strengthened into a Category 3 storm and Florida entered the "cone" -- or path of the storm -- by the National Hurricane Center.

The U.S. Navy also ordered an evacuation of 5,000 personnel based at the Naval Air Station in Key West, reported CNN. Between 50 and 60 personnel will remain at the base to perform essential functions.

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Ima intensified into a Category Storm 5 early Tuesday and tropical storm force winds could arrive in Florida as early as Friday.

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Although the storm was more than 1,500 miles from Florida on Tuesday, officials are putting plans in place, including setting up shelters and planning evacuations.

The governor suspended tolls across the state "to keep traffic flowing" before the impact of the hurricane.

Schools throughout South Florida will close Thursday and Friday to allow families to prepare for Hurricane Irma. Monroe schools also will close Wednesday.

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The University of Miami canceled classed through the rest of the week and the Miami International Auto Show, which was scheduled for Saturday, has been postponed.

In Monroe, which covers the Florida Keys, a mandatory evacuation for tourists was ordered beginning Wednesday morning. An evacuation order for residents was not determined. The county has no shelters.

"My wife is leaving the Keys today," Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt said in a release. "She would rather go to the dentist than sit in traffic. The sooner people leave the better. If ever there was a storm to take serious in the Keys, this is it."

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The Red Cross runs public shelters, which include food but not medical care.

"We have begun pre-staging workers in Florida because of Irma," Red Cross spokesperson Donna Morrissey said to ABC.

The state has more than 300 truckloads of water and 1 million meals at the state Logistics Response Center in Orlando. The governor also wrote a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking food, water and tarps.

An extensive system of canals are capable of moving water quickly, South Florida Water Management District Chief Engineer John Mitnik said at a morning news conference. But he said local drainage depends on neighborhoods' and subdivisions' systems.

Mitnik said he expects the storm to dump 8 and 10 inches of rain. But he said Irma is unlike Hurricane Harvey, which was stagnant and dropped 50 inches of rain in many portions of the Houston metro area last week.

Scott said he spoke to President Donald Trump on Monday, and requested a federal state of emergency before Irma's arrival.

"Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared," Scott said. "In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared."

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Residents in Florida followed the governor's advice, flocking to the stores to buy storm supplies as well as food and water. They also were filling up their vehicles with gas.

"Everywhere's a madhouse right now looking for gas, right?" Lake Worth resident Cody Short said to WPTV-TV while filling up a canister for his generator at a Lake Worth Wawa.

Monday's average of $2.68 a gallon is at its most expensive this year in Palm Beach County, according to GasBuddy.Com.

In Florida, it is unlawful to sell commodities, including gasoline, that "grossly exceeds the average price for that commodity during the 30 days before the declaration of the state of emergency" unless it can justify market trends.

States of emergency have been declared in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

"This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey," Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.

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