‘We’re running out of time’: Miami now a ghost town as Floridians wait bumper-to-bumper to flee Irma that has 1.4 MILLION under evacuation as FEMA warns the deadly hurricane could ‘devastate’ the US
- Hurricane Irma is expected to make landfall in southern Florida by Sunday morning
- Miami is expected to bear the brunt of Irma, a Category 4 storm clocking 150mph winds
- An estimated 1.4 million people are under evacuation in Florida and Georgia
- Florida Gov. Rick Scott said residents under evacuation in southern coastal areas need to leave by midnight
- Since evacuation orders were issued, there’s been heavy traffic on all northbound highways
- The storm has the potential to do $125billion worth of damage when it strikes Miami – and possibly much more
- Irma has caused devastation in the Caribbean, killing at least 24 and leveling entire islands
- Extensive damage has been reported on Barbuda and St Martin, with over 90 per cent of buildings wrecked
- The storm is currently battering the northern coast of Cuba
Apocalyptic scenes are playing out across the Sunshine State, as more than a million people flee Hurricane Irma’s wrath.
In the usually bustling city of Miami, the streets and beaches are eerily empty and businesses boarded up. Meanwhile, Floridians sit in hours-long traffic jams on all roads leading north to seek shelter with friends and family.
An estimated 1.4million people have been given mandatory orders to evacuate in Florida and Georgia, and that number is expected to grow as the storm approaches.
Mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for all of the counties in the southern tip of Florida and for most others all the way up the east coast. Residents in the coastal areas of Georgia, including Savannah, are also under evacuation.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is telling residents in the southern coastal evacuation areas to leave by midnight.
‘If you are planning to leave and do not leave tonight, you will have to ride out this extremely dangerous storm at your own risk,’ Scott said at a Friday press conference.
He also urged residents on the Gulf Coast to take evacuation orders seriously since Irma’s path has moved slightly west.
‘You are not going to survive this if it happens,’ Scott said. ‘Now is the time to evacuate.’
The latest forecasts show the storm making landfall just south of Miami Sunday morning, but dangerous winds and storm surges could start as early as Saturday night.
It’s then expected to track directly up the state, crossing the state line into Georgia early next week.
Irma weakened slightly Friday, from a Category 5 storm to a Category 4 storm, but remained a dangerous and deadly hurricane threatening to deliver a blow Florida hasn’t seen in more than a decade.
As of Friday afternoon, Irma was clocking sustained winds of 150 mph and is forecast to remain at Category 4 when it comes ashore.
‘Obviously Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States,’ Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator (FEMA), said at a Friday press conference. ‘We’re going to have a couple rough days.’
The storm killed at least 24 people in the Caribbean and left thousands homeless as it devastated small islands in its path. And it’s already proved deadly in the U.S. A man installing hurricane shutters on his Florida home fell off a ladder and died on Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane warnings for the Keys and parts of South Florida and Lake Okeechobee. It added a storm surge warning and extended watch areas wrapping around much of the peninsula.
For Irma, forecasters predicted a storm surge of 6 to 12 feet above ground level along Florida’s southwest coast and in the Keys. As much as a foot of rain could fall across the state, with isolated spots receiving 20 inches.
Scott has been pleading with his citizens all week to evacuate if they are ordered to, and to prepare – no matter the direction of the storm.
At a Friday morning press conference, his message grew even more dire.
‘We’re running out of time. The storm is almost here. If you are in an evacuation storm you need to go now,’ he said.
He added: ‘This is a catastrophic storm that our state has never seen. We can rebuild your home but we can’t rebuild your life. Protecting life is our absolute top priority. Our number one priority is protecting everyone’s life. Everyone’s life is important. No resource or expense will be spared to protect families.’
While current projects show the storm hitting Miami and then going up the state’s east coast towards Florida, Scott said that all Floridians needed to prepare because the storm’s so large and powerful that it will cause serious winds and storm surge on both coasts.
‘It is wider than our entire state and could cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast. Regardless of which coast you live on, be prepared to evacuate,’ Scott said.
He ordered all state offices, schools, colleges and universities to close from Friday until Monday to free up space for evacuation shelters and staging. Most school districts and universities had already voluntarily agreed to close due to the looming arrival of Hurricane Irma over the weekend – but many school districts and colleges in north central and northwest Florida had remained open.
‘Floridians are strong and resilient. In times like this we band together and help each other. We will continue working around the clock to help you prepare and after the storm we’ll be here to lift each other up and recover. We will make it through this together. Florida is an amazing melting pot of loving people,’ Scott said.
Gas shortages and gridlock plagued the evacuations, turning normally simple trips into tests of will. Interstates 75 and 95 north were bumper-to-bumper, while very few cars and tractor-trailers drove on the south lanes.
Floridians fleeing Hurricane Irma have turned Atlanta’s freeways into a ribbon of red neon brake lights, with traffic in some spots barely moving.
Thousands of the evacuees have been funneled to the city, since so many them are heading north on Interstate 75 straight to Atlanta.
Some ended up at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which opened its vast camp grounds to anyone trying to escape Irma.
It took 21 hours for Suzanne Pallot of Miami to reach Atlanta Thursday, in an SUV packed with four other people, their luggage and two cats.
After a night at a relative’s house, she heard weather forecasts predicting tropical storm force winds for Atlanta on Monday. So the group decided Friday to keep moving, this time to Memphis, Tennessee.
Manny Zuniga left his home in Miami at midnight Thursday, planning to drive through the night to avoid the traffic gridlock that he’d seen on television. It still took him 12 hours to get 230 miles to Orlando – a trip that normally takes four hours. Zuniga is headed for a relative’s house in Arkansas with his wife, two children, two dogs and a ferret.
‘We’re getting out of this state,’ he said, filling up the gas tank of his tightly-packed SUV in Orlando. ‘Irma is going to take all of Florida.’
Mari and Neal Michaud loaded their two children and dog into their small sport-utility vehicle and left their home near Cocoa Beach about 10am, bound for an impromptu vacation in Washington, D.C.
Using a phone app and calls to search for fuel along the way, they finally arrived at a convenience store that had gasoline nearly five hours later. They said the 60-mile trip up Interstate 95 should have taken an hour.
‘There was no gas and it’s gridlock. People are stranded on the sides of the highway,’ Mari said. ‘It’s 92 degrees out and little kids are out on the grass on the side of the road. No one can help them.’
Noel Marsden said he, his girlfriend, her son and their dog left Pembroke Pines north of Miami with plans to ride out Irma in Savannah, only to find the city was also shutting down because of Irma. Marsden isn’t sure where they’ll all end up.
‘I’ve got a buddy in Atlanta and a buddy in Charlotte. We’ll wind up one of those two places because there are not hotels, I can tell you that,’ he said.
The governor said people fleeing could drive slowly in the shoulder lane on highways. He hasn’t reversed the southbound lanes because he said they were needed to deliver gas and supplies.
The Homeland Security Department is temporarily waiving federal restrictions on foreign ships’ transportation of cargo in order to help distribute fuel to states and territories affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
In a statement Friday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said, ‘This is a precautionary measure to ensure we have enough fuel to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure.’ The seven-day waiver specifically affects shipments of refined products, such as gasoline, in hurricane-affected areas.
The Jones Act prohibits such shipments between U.S. points aboard foreign vessels. The last such waiver was in December 2012, for petroleum products delivered after Hurricane Sandy.