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Keys Emergency Manager: "You Must Evacuate, You Cannot Afford To Stay"

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MARATHON (CBSMiami) - Evacuation orders are being given in the Florida Keys as Monroe County emergency managers prepare for Hurricane Irma.

Key West International Airport will close Wednesday night, cancelling all commercial flights until further notice.

A State of Local Emergency was declared for Monroe County on Tuesday afternoon.

Traffic is building on the overseas highway as locals and tourists get out of the keys ahead of an evacuation order.

"We're just evacuating, getting out-of-town before everybody else does," said Key West resident Luann Huff.

Huff lives in Key West.  She's heading to Central Florida and she's not alone on the road.

"If it stays on this course, then I'm gone," said Florida Keys resident Cedric Burns. "I'm not going to stay."

Burns lives in Marathon.  His house is ready and he's gassing up his truck and is ready to leave.

"For the Florida Keys, if you were to create the worst case scenario that is what we are looking at," said Monroe Co. Emergency Operations Center Director Martin Senterfitt.

The grim outlook prompted Senterfitt to order mandatory evacuations.

"We're emphatically telling people you must evacuate, you can not afford to stay on an island with a Category 5 hurricane coming at you. Most of this island chain is only three to five feet above sea level. With the surges we're expecting this is not the place to be," said Senterfitt.

A visitor evacuation is expected to begin at sunrise on Wednesday. An evacuation for residents also will be issued. The time has yet to be determined.

There will be no shelters in Monroe County.

Eric Bradway who was visiting Key West from Philadelphia didn't wait until Wednesday to leave.

"It's going to be crazy getting out of here, gridlock," said Bradway, "Getting out of the Keys, there's only one way in and one way out. It's going to be crazy."

Many locals are also already making plans to get out.

"I'm scared. Category 5, never been through one. Been through a four but never a five and I don't want to be here," said Elizabeth Prieto who lives in Marathon.

While the water is calm now emergency mangers expect Irma to send waves over water that could cover the islands.

"With a Category 5 coming at the Florida Keys we could be looking at wave heights that would literally put the ocean over the islands. We're got to remember we're an island community and islands go under water," said Senterfitt.

The line of traffic is already building heading toward the mainland and that traffic is likely to get much heavier.

"Today is just another prep day," said charter boat captain Johnny Maddox. "I started yesterday morning on the prep."

Maddox is getting his boat ready for a very powerful storm. He knows how dicey it can in the Keys. He was there for Wilma and remembers slogging around in waste deep water from storm surge.

"If you're not in a Category 5 building you need to get out of town. Just leave. Take your belongings and your insurance papers, get your pets, get your meds and all that kind of stuff and head to the mainland," he said.

Related: How To Protect Your Pets Ahead Of A Hurricane Hit

And days before the wind begins to blow some are slowly starting to board up.

The folks at Bud N Mary's in Islamorada are getting buildings and boats storm ready.

"Normally it's  a wait and see deal, but I'll be honest with you, this track of this particular hurricane is so close to [Hurricane] Donna and could be so devastating that we're getting an early jump on it, so to speak," said Richard Stanczyk with Bud N Mary's.

All Monroe County schools and county offices will be closed beginning Wednesday.

Monroe County's three hospitals – the Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West, Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon and Mariners Hospital in Tavernier – have begun plans to evacuate their patients. Monroe County's Health Department is also closing Wednesday.

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