Pompano Beach, Fla.
As Hurricane Irma threatened to engulf virtually the entire state of Florida in deadly winds, driving rain and surging seas, the largest evacuation in the state’s history saw hundreds of thousands of people scrambling into crowded county shelters and jamming highways as they fled north from the storm, threatening to ravage the state with destruction not seen in a generation.
With the clock ticking, some counties issued curfews for Saturday, and more shelters were opened to absorb the crush of people seeking cover from one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Florida.
“This is a deadly storm and our state has never seen anything like it,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said at a news conference in Sarasota Saturday morning.
Scott implored people living in evacuation zones to leave their homes, telling people on in the southwest part of the state to leave their homes by noon for a shelter or elsewhere.
“Once the storm starts, law enforcement cannot save you,” he said.
Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, described Hurricane Irma as “a threat that is going to devastate the United States, either Florida or some of the southeastern states.”
By 7 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, the outer bands of Irma had begun moving into Miami-Dade County. “Expect damaging winds and heavy rain,” the National Weather Service warned.
Irma has already flattened a chain of Caribbean islands, including Anguilla, Barbuda and the United States Virgin Islands, killing at least 20 people. Late Friday, the hurricane made landfall on Cuba’s Camaguey Archipelago, still a Category 5 storm, the National Hurricane Center said.
Eric Silagy, the chief executive of Florida Power and Light Company, said in a news conference that power losses were expected to affect 4.1 million customers, or nine million people in the state. He said that every part of Florida would be affected and that people could lose power for an extended period, possibly weeks. The number of customers affected in the state could be the largest ever.
Airports and airlines raced to get flights off the ground Friday. Airport parking garages in Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale were full, and officials warned people of long lines and disrupted flights. At least 875 arriving and departing flights had been canceled by midday at those airports.
Hurricane Irma stands apart in one way from other storms, including Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 storm that in 1992 devastated south Miami-Dade County: It is huge. Florida, surrounded by water on three sides, is only some 140 miles wide. The storm stretches over 300 miles. Every part of the state is expected to feel its wrath.
Forecasters slightly altered the storm’s projected path on Friday night, saying it would move directly up Florida’s west coast. “If you do not leave by noon tomorrow, you need to be prepared to get to the closest available shelter,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. “After noon tomorrow, it will not be safe for anyone in these coastal counties along the west coast to travel, and it will not be safe for the law enforcement officers who will need to rescue you.”
Packing 155-mile-an-hour winds, the storm is strong enough to tear roofs off buildings and snap trees and power poles. The storm might drop as much as 20 inches of rain in some areas.—NY Times