HURRICANE Irma has reached the Florida Keys, and a Blackwood woman caught in the storm’s path has spoken to the Argus about the situation on the ground.

The storm has already battered the north coast of Cuba and has now hit Florida, killing three people.

Tasmin Pickford, James Peckham and their three-year-old daughter, from Blackwood, are among a nine-strong family group staying in a friend’s villa in Orlando.

Speaking to the Argus Ms Pickford said: “The neighbours came over and said that our villa is built well so staying here is quite safe.

“The weather here is getting bad, the rain is pouring down it's so heavy, the wind is gradually getting worse.

“It's due tonight going into tomorrow morning.

“If we leave the property after 5pm today I've been told we could get fined or prosecuted.”

She added the family had not left the villa for two days as they had been told to stay inside.

“Food is now running low so we are panicking there,” she said.

Although the group was due to fly home on Tuesday, speaking before the storm hit Mrs Pickford said it looked likely the flight would be cancelled.

The hurricane began to affect the Sunshine State late on Saturday, with its forward reaches sending "embedded tornadoes" sweeping across southern parts.

Irma's eyewall - a band of clouds surrounding the centre of the storm - reached the low-lying Keys island chain on Sunday morning, with the eye of the storm 15 miles southeast of Key West.

More than six million people in Florida and Georgia have been urged to leave their homes, while tens of thousands of people were huddling in shelters as the National Hurricane Centre warned the storm would bring 130 mph winds, torrential rain and storm surges of up to 15ft.

Florida governor Rick Scott called on anyone still in at-risk areas to follow evacuation orders, saying: "This is clearly a life-threatening situation."

"If you have been ordered to evacuate you need to leave now. This is your last chance to make a good decision," he said on Saturday night.

"Evacuation procedures are in place across the state, more than 6.5 million Floridians have been ordered to evacuate. Do not put yourself or your family's life at risk."

There are fears the low-lying Florida Keys, where near hurricane-force wind gusts were recorded late on Saturday, will suffer catastrophic damage.

Monitoring the situation from Camp David, President Donald Trump urged people in the danger areas to heed the governor's advice.

Prime Minister Theresa May said work was taking place with US authorities to ensure British expats and tourists in Florida were protected as millions of locals and visitors flee to safety.

A meeting of the UK Government's emergency Cobra committee is scheduled for this afternoon after the Foreign Office said its ability to provide assistance to British citizens may be "extremely limited" and advised those affected to make their own contingency plans.

Forecasters offered some hope to residents of Tampa and Miami, which will now potentially be spared the direct hit predicted for days.

But the swing to the west means St. Petersburg could be hit by the centre of the storm, which left more than 20 people dead when it tore across the Caribbean.

Some 500 British troops have been deployed to the region, along with British police officers stationed in the British Virgin Islands, to restore law and order following reports of looting.

Defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show: "There has been a security issue there and that's why we're now prioritising getting armed troops in and police coming in behind them to strengthen the local police force.

"You can understand the island has been devastated, it's been difficult for people to move around until you get helicopters there, but there are troops now there assisting the governor to ensure law and order is maintained."