With sustained winds of 65 mph and centered about 70 miles east of Tallahassee, Irma is carrying its fierce winds and battering rain over southern Georgia.
More than 340,000 customers in Georgia had no electricity, Georgia Power said, and forecasters expect tropical storm-force winds and flash foods to hammer the state well into Tuesday, spurring creeks to rise, trees to topple and streets to flood.
Ahead of the worst of the storm, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency throughout the state and many school systems shut down for the day.
The forecast track has the center of the storm moving near the northwestern coast of the Florida peninsula on Monday morning, crossing the eastern Florida Panhandle into southern Georgia on Monday afternoon. It will weaken slowly in the coming hours and will likely become a tropical depression on Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said.
But the Southeast will be hit with heavy winds and rain. Strong river flooding is possible over the next five days in much of central Georgia and southern South Carolina.
"The center of Irma will move into southwestern Georgia later today, and move into eastern Alabama Tuesday morning," the National Hurricane Center said.
"There is the danger of life-threatening storm surge flooding along portions of the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, where a Storm Surge Warning remains in effect."
State of emergency
Deal's state of emergency covered all of Georgia's 159 counties. The governor also ordered that the state government be shut Monday and Tuesday "for all employees except essential personnel."
"We're taking precautions in every area but there are certainly things that we cannot control," Deal said. "To the public in their homes who are trying to ride out this storm, we urge you to not get on the roads until you have been given clearance by everyone who is required to give clearance."
A tropical storm warning extends from central Georgia into northern Georgia and northwestern Alabama, including the cities of Atlanta, Georgia, and Huntsville, Alabama.
Forecasters are predicting sustained winds of 30 to 45 mph with gusts of 45 to 60 mph, downed trees and power outages in those areas.
In metro Atlanta, MARTA
suspended its Monday bus and rail service ahead of the storm. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has opened an emergency shelter and urged residents to stay off the roads.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport remains open but the weather could affect operations Monday.
Some businesses are suspending their operations and closing early on Monday.
Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia in West Point, Georgia, has canceled vehicle production on Monday and Tuesday for all three shifts due to Irma, a company official said. Production is expected to resume on Wednesday.
South Carolina also geared up for the storm. State government offices are closed in several counties and authorities posted a guide
on how to prepare for the deluge. High winds pushed choppy waves over the seawall in the Battery, a historic site popular with tourists in Charleston.
Nearly 52,000 South Carolina Electric and Gas Company customers have lost power, the utility said.
Alabama's Emergency Management Agency said wind gusts at 9 a.m. were 40 miles per hour in the southern portion of the state, and Gov. Kay Ivey issued a directive permitting state offices in certain counties to close Monday.
"In all other counties, each state and local agency head is authorized to make closure determinations based on local weather conditions," she said in a memorandum.
In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper says emergency officials have resources "staged and ready to mobilize" in Greensboro, Charlotte and Asheville due to heavy winds and rain expected Monday afternoon into Tuesday.
He said severe weather in the western part of the state could lead to localized flooding and landslides, especially since wildfires burned through the mountains last year.
Rainfall and tornadoes
There will be heavy rain accumulations into Wednesday in parts of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and North Carolina, forecasters said.
"A few tornadoes are possible across northeast Florida and southeast portions of Georgia and South Carolina through tonight," the hurricane center said.