From astronauts to artists to athletes, folks with East Tennessee ties are taking to social media to express care and caution as Hurricane Irma sweeps through the Caribbean on a course toward Florida.
"As daylight is hitting the islands, and we're really getting a sense of how bad this is...I don't know what to say," East Tennessee native and country star Kenny Chesney tweeted in a statement Thursday. "I've never been in a war, but the devastation, the people's faces in a place I know by heart have left me feeling helpless."
Chesney has had a home for years in the Virgin Islands. It's an area he knows well and has sung about.
He said in the statement he wants to help and discussions are underway with friends on how to do that.
"Give us a few days to figure this out. Pray/send good thoughts to everyone who's been affected or is in the path of Hurricane Irma," his statement reads. "This is unlike anything they've ever seen from St. Maartens to St. Barths to Puerto Rico then the Caribbean and on to Key West."
Astronaut Scott Kelly, a University of Tennessee alumnus, also addressed the storm Thursday.
"#Bahamas blues," he tweeted on Thursday morning. "Thoughts are with all in Hurricane #Irma's path, including my favorite spot on Earth from space. Heed evacuations; be safe!"
A Category 5 storm with winds of about 175 mph, Irma has caused heavy damage in the Virgin Islands, St. Martin and Barbuda, among other islands. Forecasts called for it to strike Florida on Sunday morning.
Only three Category 5 hurricanes are known to have hit the United States, including Andrew in 1992 and Camille in 1969, USA Today reports.
The hurricane also has caught the attention of another Knoxville-area singer, Chris Blue, who has three upcoming concerts at the Tennessee Theatre on Thursday night.
He tweeted: "Whoa Hurricane Irma just hit @antiguabarbuda. My prayers are with everyone on the island."
Olympian and former UT world-class sprinter Justin Gatlin cautioned everyone in the giant storm's path to get ready and be safe.
"This next hurricane coming up looks like it's about to hit Florida," he said in an Instagram video. "Everybody in Florida get ready. Get them waters, gasoline and generators, flashlights, batteries, like it’s whatever needed, canned foods. Prepare yourself like another one's about to hit.
"But hopefully that doesn’t happen, you all. Let's keep helping each other out. That’s what makes the world turn around. Helping each other out, man."
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