Last updated: September 13, 2017 at 11:25 am
Hurricane Irma has reached the lower Florida Keys, with thousands of people nervously waiting to find out whether their homes will be spared or savaged by the furious storm.
According to the National Hurricane Centre, the eye of the category four storm is currently 15 miles (25km) south east of Key West.
The Florida Keys have been hit by the northern eyewall of Irma. The eyewall is the band of clouds that surrounds the centre of the storm, bringing intense winds and strong rain.
Devastating 130mph winds and catastrophic flooding is forecast, while storm surges of 15ft (4.6m) could be enough to engulf houses in low-lying coastal areas.
Police say a man in Florida Keys has died in a pickup truck crash, in what is believed to be the state’s first fatality that is linked to Hurricane Irma.
The National Weather Service has told Floridians that “swaths of tornado-like damage” are possible until 9.15am local time, with “frequent destructive wind gusts” battering the Florida Keys.
Irma’s final path unclear
In an earlier tweet, the NWS urged those exposed to Irma to stay indoors, hunker down away from windows, and to use “whatever you have to try and protect yourself from flying debris”.
Forecasters have been monitoring a crucial shift in Hurricane Irma’s path that could keep the storm’s ferocious eye off the southwest Florida coast and over warm Gulf waters.
If the storm swings to the west, Tampa and Miami could be spared the catastrophic head-on blow that meteorologists have been warning about for days.
Any change in trajectory puts other communities in the firing line – including the city of St Petersburg.
For those trying to flee and seek refuge inland, the changing forecast has caused concern.
Miami left quiet
A total of 6.3 million people in Florida were ordered to evacuate – about a third of the state’s population.
Hurricane Irma is up to to 400 miles wide, leaving the entire Florida peninsula exposed.
The storm killed at least 25 people as it swept across the Caribbean – and in Florida, America’s third-most populous state, officials are also treating Irma as a “life-threatening situation”.
Right now, approximately 600,000 people in Florida are without power. The streets of Miami, a usually bustling city, were desolate as an overnight curfew was imposed.