Hurricane Irma will be the third major disaster to strike Kiwi Anna Wilding, a survivor of the Christchurch earthquakes and Hurricane Sandy.

Wilding and her husband James Sved recently moved to Palm Beach, Florida, from Washington DC.

So recently, in fact, that insurers refused to give them cover so close to the hurricane, leaving them in line for a financial hit as well.

"We're going to lose property," Wilding said. "There will be losses, no doubt about it. And we're a block away from the Intercoastal, which is part lake, part ocean. Our biggest worry is flooding."

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Hurricane Irma, centre, approaches Cuba and Florida, with Hurricane Katia, left, in the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Jose, right, in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo / AP
Hurricane Irma, centre, approaches Cuba and Florida, with Hurricane Katia, left, in the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Jose, right, in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo / AP
A man stands on a Miami balcony amid shuttered apartments earlier today. Photo / AP
A man stands on a Miami balcony amid shuttered apartments earlier today. Photo / AP

Originally Palm Beach was meant to be at the eye of the storm, before swinging towards Fort Myers, but a change in air pressure has led instead to multiple tornadoes forming.

One was less than 10 minutes away from Wilding's house as she spoke.

The call from the Herald was cut off by yet another tornado warning.

This will be Wilding's third natural disaster in recent years.

She experienced the aftershocks of the Christchurch earthquakes, having flown back to her home town immediately after the quakes to start her own charity for the victims.

She was also in New York during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Traffic rolls at a crawl on the northbound lanes of Florida's Turnpike near the intersection of I-75 in Wildwood, Florida, as residents evacuate to safety. Photo / AP
Traffic rolls at a crawl on the northbound lanes of Florida's Turnpike near the intersection of I-75 in Wildwood, Florida, as residents evacuate to safety. Photo / AP

"I've seen people lose their homes before," she said. "There are changes happening to the climate - you can't deny it."

Expected to reach its peak in the early hours of Sunday morning, and last well into Monday evening, Hurricane Irma was on a greater scale than anything she had seen before.

Florida authorities are warning it will be worse than Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which took a decade to recover from, and are still advising residents to leave the state.

Most shops are closed, having already been emptied of water and tinned food.

Theme park Disney World has been closed for the first time in history.

"From New Zealand you can't imagine it - six million people have been evacuated from their homes," Wilding said."It just puts into perspective what a great job they've actually done, getting the message to everybody and mobilising the entire state."

The water section of the drinks aisle at a Winn Dixie supermarket in South Tampa, Florida. Photo / Dale Armit
The water section of the drinks aisle at a Winn Dixie supermarket in South Tampa, Florida. Photo / Dale Armit

Wilding had begun collecting coconuts blown from nearby palm trees for extra water, but had also stocked up on treats to make the coming days easier.

"One of the funny aspects is you stock up on all this food, and you want to eat it because you're in the dark behind the shutters and there's nothing else to do but read a book and watch the storm warnings on TV," she said.

"I've got chocolate chip cookies here and I'm trying really hard not to eat them all."

Matakana-born Sue Harmer and her family in Fort Myers have champagne to see them through the worst, as they wait in the direct path of the hurricane.

For five days, they had been listening to reports flowing in from along the storm's route through the Caribbean.

Fort Myers was expected to be on the fringes, still bathed in bright sunshine until early afternoon today.

However, this morning they heard their home was now in Irma's direct path, at Ground Zero of the Category 3 hurricane.

"It's pretty scary, actually," Hamer said. "We have to go outside to use the phone, because the storm shutters are up - they're like corrugated iron - and all the metal blocks the signal. The house is dark, and this morning we just had to get out for a walk. We all said this is the most stressful thing we've ever been through."

Hamer estimated half the houses in her neighbourhood had been abandoned. The airport was closed yesterday, and her friends told her that a drive out of the state, normally less than six hours, took them eight.

Despite reports of fighting over supplies, the disaster had brought out the best as well as the worst in people, Hamer said. A sort of Blitz spirit had sprung up among the remainers.

"It's great," she said. "You walk around the neighbourhood and everyone's far more warm and friendly than they usually are. The ones who evacuated were frantic, emptying the shops, and now everyone who's left is supporting each other."

She and her husband, daughter and dog are staying put in their house with champagne to take their minds off the danger. They had opted not to go to the state-provided shelters as they found them more frightening than the hurricane.

"The shelters here are really rough," agreed Wilding.

"We went to check out some yesterday, and the woman there told us that she was supposed to have 60 officers for safety, and instead they'd provided her with 17. It's safer to stay home."