Florida has ordered 5.6 million people to evacuate as massive Hurricane Irma menaces the southeastern U.S. state, according to its Division of Emergency Management. The material damage of the deadly hurricane could go up to $200 billion, analysts said Saturday.Irma regained strength as a Category 5 storm late Friday as it made landfall on the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba, and is now swirling about 275 miles (440 kilometers) away from Miami packing maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour.
Irma is expected to strike the Florida Keys late Saturday and Sunday before moving inland, according to the National Hurricane Center, and many residents have joined a mass exodus amid increasingly dire warnings to leave.
Extending for 140 miles, Irma's hurricane-force winds are expected to reach from West Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast to Fort Myers on the Gulf of Mexico, which has become an "insurance industry nightmare" Chuck Watson, a Georgia-based disaster modeler told Bloomberg.
He noted that the damage may surpass $135 billion in Florida and may push the cost as high as $200 billion.
Around 8.5 million properties in Florida are threatened by Irma's winds, CoreLogic told Bloomberg.
Shahid Hamid, an expert on the insurance industry who oversees stress testing for Florida state regulators, told AFP he had serious concerns about the ability of local insurers to absorb a shock of this magnitude.
As director of the insurance laboratory at Florida International University's hurricane research center, Hamid tests companies to see whether their financial positions are secure enough to handle a flood of hurricane-related claims.
Although all companies passed the most recent round of testing, the stress tests did not contemplate the "exceptional scenario" of a $100 billion storm, Hamid said.
As it roared across the Caribbean the monster storm claimed at least 19 lives, devastating a series of tiny islands like Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin -- where 60 percent of homes were wrecked and looting broke out -- before slamming into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew -- which killed 65 people in 1992 -- Florida's governor Rick Scott had said all of the state's 20.6 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate.
Meteorologists warned that by Saturday morning scenes of far greater devastation were sure to emerge as Irma worked her way along the northern coast westward through Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara provinces where it is forecast to turn north toward Florida.
Irma was about 275 miles (440 km) south-southeast of Miami, the NHC said in its latest advisory.
With the storm barreling toward the United States, officials ordered an historic evacuation in Florida that has been made more difficult by clogged highways, gasoline shortages and the challenge of moving older people.