Summary

* Top winds swirling at 160 miles (260 kilometers) per hour

* Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew of 1992

* Governor asks state’s 20.6 million inhabitants to be prepared to evacuate

Store owners boarded up their windows and families sandbagged their homes to join a mass exodus as Hurricane Irma churned toward Florida after cutting a deadly swath through the Caribbean.

After killing at least 19 people and devastating thousands of homes on a string of Caribbean islands, Irma made landfall in Cuba's Camaguey Archipelago as a maximum-strength Category Five storm. It had top winds swirling at 160 miles (260 kilometers) per hour and was bearing down on nearby Florida, with the eye of the storm just 300 miles south-southeast of Miami, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew -- which killed 65 people in 1992 -- Florida's governor said all of the state's 20.6 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate.

"People have got to understand, if you're in an evacuation zone, you should be very cautious, you should get out now," Governor Rick Scott said."This is a powerful storm bigger than our state."

Bumper-to-bumper traffic snaked north out of the peninsula, with mattresses, gas cans and kayaks strapped to car roofs as residents heeded increasingly insistent warnings to get out.

President Donald Trump warned residents in Irma's path faced a threat of "epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen. "Be safe and get out of its way, if possible," he tweeted.

Roaring across the Caribbean, the monster storm claimed at least 19 lives as it laid waste to 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.

As Irma barreled toward Florida, meteorologists were closely monitoring two other hurricanes.