US President Donald Trump has signed a $15 billion hurricane relief package as the National Hurricane Center announced the imminent arrival of a monstrous storm forcing millions of Americans from the southern states of Florida and Georgia to evacuate.
Trump signed the $15.25 billion in relief fund on Friday, a day after it was passed by Congress. About half the sum is designated for FEMA's disaster relief fund.
FEMA has already spent much of its original funds on the huge damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana.
Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, struck last month, killing about 60 people and causing property damage estimated at up to $180 billion in the two states.
Trump's Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert said FEMA was operating at full tilt, "but there will be a break in their operations if they run out of money. That's why that supplemental legislation was so necessary."
With Harvey relief efforts expected to top $100 billion, lawmakers and officials agreed that the latest aid should be just a first step in broader federal assistance to come.
"We're going to have to go back I'm sure for additional resources as these storms continue to hurt our states and our citizens."
The National Hurricane Center issued strong warnings about the "extremely dangerous" Category 5 Hurricane Irma. "THIS IS AS REAL AS IT GETS," screamed a warning posted by the National Weather Service for Key West -- one of the low-lying islands off South Florida that will be the first to face Irma's fury on Saturday night. "NOWHERE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL BE SAFE. YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO EVACUATE."
Forecasters also offered hurricane and storm surge warnings and watches farther north than Florida, in neighboring Georgia.
As people prepared for the hurricane or/and evacuated, Trump assured them authorities were ready for Irma. "It's a really bad one, but we are prepared at the highest level," Trump shouted to reporters as he boarded a helicopter for Camp David, the retreat in Maryland where he will hold a weekend cabinet meeting and monitor the storm.
Irma was expected to hit Florida on Sunday morning, bringing massive damage to several million homes from flooding and winds as strong as 160 miles (260 kilometers) per hour.
About 5.6 million people in Florida — more than one-quarter of the state's population — were ordered to evacuate and another 540,000 were told to leave the Georgia coast.
The evacuations, including from areas around Miami, have been made more difficult by clogged highways, gasoline shortages and the challenge of moving old people around the top retirement destination.
Authorities opened hundreds of shelters for people who did not leave.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma roared toward the state after lashing Cuba, killing 21 people in the eastern Caribbean and leaving catastrophic destruction in its wake.