MIAMI — The Latest on Hurricane Irma preparations in Florida (all times local):
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ordering the closing of all schools, colleges and universities throughout the state.
Scott announced late Thursday that all schools, as well as state offices, would be closed Friday through Monday.
Many school districts and universities had already voluntarily agreed to close due to the looming arrival of Hurricane Irma over the weekend. But many school districts and colleges in north central and northwest Florida had remained open.
In a brief statement, Scott said he ordered all schools to shut down so that the buildings could be used potentially as shelters or as staging grounds for relief efforts.
He said Floridians are “facing a life-threatening storm” and “every family must prepare to evacuate.
Florida officials want residents to evacuate the area directly south of Lake Okeechobee as Hurricane Irma approaches.
Gov. Rick Scott released a statement Thursday ordering an immediate voluntary evacuation for cities surrounding the southern half of the lake from Lake Port to Canal Point in Hendry, Palm Beach and Glades counties. Mandatory evacuations will be put in place beginning Friday morning.
The statement said Scott made the decision after discussing the Herbert Hoover Dike with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Col. Jason Kirk told Scott the structural integrity of the dike would not be compromised, but excessive could wind push some water over the dike.
Florida’s head of the Department of Corrections said that nearly 5,000 inmates are being moved due to Hurricane Irma.
Secretary Julie Jones says 2,000 inmates from South Florida prisons were transferred to other facilities on Wednesday, and nearly 3,000 from central Florida were being moved on Thursday. Jones added that prisoners and officers are being taken care of and remain safe.
Jones says this has been the largest transfer of prisoners due to a storm. She says extensive damage contingency plans are already in place.
The three major amusement parks in Orlando, Florida, are all operating under normal conditions as Hurricane Irma threatens the entire state.
Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and Sea World said Thursday morning they are monitoring the movement of Irma, but at this point have made no plans to shut down their parks or alter the normal hours of operations. Some special events have been canceled.
The storm is projected to reach the southern part of the state Saturday and some tracking models have the Category 5 Hurricane reaching central Florida on Monday.
Each park has refund or rescheduling policies in place for park visitors who may not feel comfortable visiting Orlando this weekend. The parks have their individual policies posted on their respective websites.
Immigrant rights groups are urging the government not to inquire about anyone’s immigration status at shelters that have opened in advance of Hurricane Irma.
The Florida Immigrant Coalition urged Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday to issue a statement saying the state welcomes people into shelters without checking IDs. Advocacy groups say immigrants are fearful after a Central Florida sheriff posted a Twitter message saying that officers will be checking IDs to keep sex offenders away from families.
The coalition said in a statement that this “is not a moment to incite fear in the hearts of our communities.”
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida chapter also weighed in, saying Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd “should be working to prepare his community, not burnishing his Joe Arpaio-style ‘tough cop’ credentials with a series of irresponsible tweets.”
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said officials there won’t be asking for identification.
NASA secured Kennedy Space Center on Thursday for potentially catastrophic wind and rain, as SpaceX squeezed out a rocket launch in advance of Hurricane Irma.
Kennedy was closing its doors to all nonessential staff, effective Friday. A crew of about 120 people will ride out the storm on site.
Most of the critical buildings at Kennedy are designed to withstand gusts of 125 mph to 135 mph. Irma’s wind could exceed if — and when — it reaches Cape Canaveral.
Workers rushed to cover the Orion capsule scheduled to launch in two years on a brand new NASA rocket, the Space Launch System, or SLS. Pieces of the rocket were stashed away in other buildings.
As NASA stacked sandbags at doorways and other entrances, SpaceX managed to launch an unmanned Falcon rocket from NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A, once used by Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles. Aboard the Falcon was an Air Force minishuttle taking off on another long experimental flight in orbit.
Even before Thursday morning’s liftoff, Kennedy seemed quieter than usual. After the Falcon soared, the parking lots were even emptier. About 9,000 people work at Kennedy, most of them contractors.
In Pinellas County officials announced a mandatory evacuation of everyone living in low-lying areas.
Evacuation zone “A” cover the county’s Gulf Coast and the people living along the bayside as well. It also includes people living in mobile homes, regardless of the location. The decision was announced Thursday.
Close to a million people live in Pinellas County, many along the waterfront if the peninsula surrounded by water on three sides that’s about 250 miles (402.32 kilometers) northwest of Miami.
Also, in neighboring Pasco County, officials announced Thursday that five shelters are opening.
Gov. Rick Scott is urging all gas stations in Florida to stay open as long as possible to accommodate people who are trying to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma.
The governor said during a Thursday news conference that the state will send in police escorts to get gas station employees out safely if necessary before the storm arrives.
He says authorities are already escorting fuel tankers to get them through traffic and to gas stations as quickly as possible.
Scott says all of the state’s ports are still operating, bringing in fuel and supplies.
He urged residents to take only as much gas as they need to make sure there is enough for everyone who needs it.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott maintains that the state is doing everything it can to deal with fuel shortages and traffic jams so people can evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma.
Scott on Thursday acknowledged that the current situation is “frustrating” for Floridians, but he said the state is working with federal authorities and other states to move as much gas into the state.
This includes having the Florida Highway Patrol escort fuel trucks.
Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said that during the night troopers helped escort trucks from two Florida ports to stations in Marion and Martin counties.
Troopers were also escorting trucks from Georgia to stations in Perry, which is located in north central Florida.
American Airlines is preparing to shut down operations across Florida as Hurricane Irma approaches.
Officials said in a news release that the airline will cease operations at its Miami hub as well as in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers on Friday afternoon.
The final flight to leave Miami International Airport is scheduled to take off for Dallas at 3:49 p.m. Friday.
Operations will cease at Orlando International Airport at 2 p.m. on Saturday and airline officials said they will continue to monitor conditions at other airports in Florida.
Resumption of service will depend upon airport and roadway conditions and the ability of crew members to get to work.
The Florida Highway Patrol says troopers are monitoring the high volume of traffic heading north on Florida’s Turnpike as people evacuate South Florida.
In a news release, the highway patrol said extra troopers, road rangers and wreckers will be on the roadways to help drivers whose vehicles have become disabled.
The agency says disabled vehicles left on the shoulders of the highways will be towed staring Thursday morning to make it easier for emergency workers who are trying to reach crash victims.
Turnpike officials are also using cameras along the road to monitor conditions.
Anyone needed help can call (asterisk)FHP to get assistance.
Residents in parts of the Miami metro area are under mandatory orders to leave their homes as Hurricane Irma barrels toward South Florida with potentially catastrophic winds.
Mayors in Miami-Dade and Broward counties issued mandatory evacuation orders starting Thursday morning for barrier islands and low-lying mainland areas in the metro area of 6 million, where forecasters predict the hurricane with winds of 180 mph (290 kph) could strike by early Sunday.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott strongly urges people to evacuate if asked to do so by local officials. The governor also says he expects the state’s gas stations to have fuel Thursday, after talking with fuel retailers a day earlier.