But that soon changed. Widespread evacuations have already been in the works for some time, and will continue until the storm makes landfall sometime early Sunday morning.
Incredibly there was an Australian among the 10 or so hardcore muscle devotees getting in a last workout – model and actor Calum Winsor from Sydney who says he is well prepared. On the Gulf coast, where the flat continental shelf worsens the threat, the surge could reach 15 feet from the cape to Captiva.
And little is known of the damage Irma did to Cuba, where it lingered much of the day Saturday.
In one of the biggest evacuations ever ordered in the US, about 5.6 million people in Florida – more than one-quarter of the state’s population – were told to leave, and 540,000 were ordered to clear out from the Georgia coast.
Although it has weakened in the past 24 hours to a category three storm, authorities say it remains a deadly threat.
Another Florida resident has made an event encouraging people to “shoot flames” at the storm.
“With strong winds and extended rain expected in Atlanta Monday, Delta is recommending customers who are transiting its Atlanta hub on Monday to modify their itineraries around Atlanta on delta.com”, Delta said in a written statement. Storm surge watch has been extended north on the west coast of Florida to the Suwanee River.
USA authorities have ordered 5.6m people – more than a quarter of Florida’s population – to evacuate, with tens of thousands having already taken refuge in designated shelters by Saturday morning.
More than 50,000 of those moved into schools, community centres and churches to weather the storm in shelters.
Ninety-four Georgia counties remain under a state of emergency.
“We lost a significant and a good number of assets.in terms of fire stations, police stations”, Governor Kenneth Mapp said on Facebook, adding that the region’s main health facility, the Schneider Regional Medical Center, lost its roof.
Palm Beach County has issued a curfew starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Crowdfunding site GlobalGiving’s “Hurricane Irma Relief Fund” aims to provide food, water and medicine to survivors.
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for prayers for all those in the path of Hurricane Irma as it approached the United States.
The record-breaking hurricane – Irma accumulated more wind energy in 48 hours than any hurricane ever recorded – has been menacing South Florida for days.
The storm battered Cuba Sept.9 after leaving a path of destruction in the Caribbean.
Now a Category 4 system, Irma is forecast to regain power through Sunday when it may reach Category 5 again, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said late Friday.
Irma also flattened 95 percent of the northern half of the island of St. Martin, according to a local official.
Sheets of rain arrived in the late afternoon as skies blackened over Fort Lauderdale.
Early Saturday, tropical storm force winds had started lashing parts of the Florida chain of islands, pushing storm surge ashore.
“We think, based on model simulations that climate change is having an effect, making storms slightly more intense with higher rainfall rates, but these changes are not huge and we can not yet clearly detect them in observations”, he said.