With Hurricane Irma still a Category 5 storm and one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic, the military has ordered an evacuation of over five thousand personnel from the Key West Naval Air Station in Florida.

As the storm lashes the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with heavy winds and rain, it is expected to turn northwest and slam into Florida. It is expected to pass to the north over Cuba, and the Navy has ordered the base at Guantanamo Bay to shelter in place. It is expected to reach landfall in the US by Saturday.

More than 5,000 active duty service members, civilians and their families based at Naval Air Station Key West have received mandatory evacuation orders, according to US Navy officials. The officials familiar with the evacuation plan say approximately 50 to 60 personnel will stay to man essential functions at the installation.

The Commander of the US Navy Region Southeast ordered the “mandatory evacuation of non-essential personnel and dependents from NAS Key West to safe haven within 300 miles of Atlanta, Georgia,” according to Navy spokesman Bill Dougherty.

Navy officials tell CNN that aircraft, including fixed-wing planes and helicopters will be moving inland from Jacksonville and Mayport, Florida.

Submarines are preparing to evacuate or have been evacuated from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, according to several Navy officials. In the coming days, other Navy installations may be ordered to evacuate.

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The Navy has two ships, the USS Iwo Jima and USS New York which are scheduled to leave Mayport, Florida and head to Norfolk to load up with disaster supplies. They will be on standby for any request for assistance following Hurricane Irma.

Two other ships, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Oak Hill which were bringing relief supplies to Houston, for the stricken areas from Hurricane Harvey, will be forced to stay off the coast of Florida to ride out Irma and await further orders whether to proceed to Houston or provide relief in Florida.

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Photo courtesy US Navy