Hurricane Irma Could Create 'One of the Largest Mass Evacuations in US History'
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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
“If you’re told to evacuate, get out quickly,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told Floridians Thursday morning as Hurricane Irma remains on course to strike south Florida on Sunday.
The precise path of this historic Category 5 storm remains unknown once it makes landfall. Most projections predict Irma will hit the Florida Keys and the Miami-Dade metro area. Then, Irma could possibly turn north, either along the eastern coast or toward Orlando.
“Based on Irma’s projected path, which includes Florida’s heavily populated eastern coast, the enormous storm could create one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history,” said CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen. “All possibilities are still on the table for impacts to the U.S.,” he said.
Experts says such a massive evacuation could lead to miles-long gridlock. That happened with attempted mass evacuations during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Hurricane Rita in 2005.
Evacuation of the Florida Keys began on Tuesday. All visitors and many residents began heading north in the morning. Permanent residents were ordered to leave the island chain, beginning at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Evacuating the Florida Keys is particularly troublesome. The only road north is the 113-mile long U.S. Route 1, which includes 42 bridges, one of them seven miles long.
Irma Will Affect Six Million Residents in the Miami Metro Area
Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties combined have about six million residents. That’s the eighth largest metropolitan area in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Miami Mayor Philip Levine called Irma “a nuclear hurricane.” Levine told Miami Beach residents and visitors to “get out now.” For those who choose to stay, he said, “you’re on your own.” Levine added that “at a certain point, our first responders will no longer be able to go out during the brunt of the storm.”
Broward County ordered mandatory evacuations starting at noon on Thursday for people who live east of the north-south Federal Highway and on the barrier islands, Mayor Barbara Sharief said Wednesday.
Sharief said the county will open 14 shelters for those in the evacuation zones. All other county operations will be closed, the Miami Herald reported.
Broward Sheriff Urges County Residents to ‘Leave, So You Don’t Become a Victim’
“This storm will have significant impacts to South Florida,” said Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. He urged residents in the applicable areas to consider leaving and to do so quickly.
Israel added, “Deputies will stop responding in the evacuation zones when sustained winds surpass 45 mph,” he said. “We’re not going to knock on doors. We’re not arresting people and we’re not pulling people out of their homes. We’re asking you to leave, so you don’t become a victim.”
Irma Batters Several Locations in the Caribbean
Irma crossed the Leeward Islands on Wednesday with sustained winds of 185 miles an hour. At least nine persons are known dead. The hurricane battered several islands – including Barbuda, St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands – and caused widespread devastation, CNN reports.
The tiny island of Barbuda is barely inhabitable with nearly all its buildings damaged, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda said.
Although Puerto Rico was spared a direct hit, the U.S. territory was lashed by strong winds and torrential rains, leaving nearly one million people without power, the New York Times reported. Power might not be restored in some areas for months.
Almost 50,000 people were without water, according to the territory’s emergency management agency, the Times said.