Millions Flee From Hurricane Irma’s Path As Florida Prepares For Deadly Hit

Millions Flee From Hurricane Irma’s Path As Florida Prepares For Deadly Hit
September 09 21:15 2017 Print This Article

More than 6.3 million people evacuated from the path of deadly Hurricane Irma on Saturday as one the most powerful storms in history lined up a dreadful final act: a potentially overwhelming and catastrophic direct strike on Florida.

Slightly weakened after hitting Cuba but still packing an enormously powerful punch, effects of the storm that has claimed more than 20 lives during a week-long 185mph rampage across the Caribbean were already being felt in the Sunshine State by lunchtime.

The centre of the category 4 storm was predicted to make landfall in the Florida Keys, the vulnerable low-lying island chain off the state’s southern coast, in the early hours of Sunday. But the outer bands of a storm that Florida governor Rick Scott warned was “wider than the entire state” lashed coastal and inland areas soon after daybreak on Saturday, sparking tornado warnings and widespread loss of power.

“The storm is here,” Scott said at a morning briefing in Sarasota County, at which he warned an expected 6ft to 12ft surge of sea water would engulf houses.

“Hurricane Irma is now impacting our state. Millions of Floridians will see major hurricane impact with deadly storm surge and life-threatening wind. If you have been ordered to evacuate you need to leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, you need to go right now.”

The projected track of Hurricane Irma took it up the west coast of Florida during Sunday and in line for a direct hit on the 3 million residents of the Tampa Bay area early on Monday, still as a major hurricane with sustained winds of greater than 140mph. A tornado watch was issued for all of south Florida.

 

Rick Scott, Florida governor

Radar images of Irma over Cuba’s northern coast mid-morning on Saturday showed that the storm’s core had been disrupted by its interaction with land, raising hopes that its power could be diminished by the time it struck Florida. But forecasters were quick to warn there was little change to Irma’s deadly threat.

“It does not look like the same hurricane we had yesterday but that doesn’t mean it can’t make a comeback as it gets over that warm water to the north of Cuba,” said Max Mayfield, a former director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

“Even if it weakens more it’s still going to be a dangerous major hurricane as it comes over the Florida Keys and South Florida.”

The weakening was confirmed by the NHC’s late-morning advisory, which temporarily downgraded the storm to category 3 and also adjusted the projected track of Irma’s centre further west and away from the urban areas of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in the south east, home to more than 6 million people.

But NHC specialist Lixion Avila’s forecast warned that hurricane force winds stretched more than 70 miles from Irma’s centre of circulation.

“There is an imminent danger of life-threatening storm surge flooding in portions of central and southern Florida, including the Florida Keys,” he said. “Irma is expected to make landfall in Florida as an extremely dangerous major hurricane, bringing life-threatening wind effects to the state regardless of the exact track of the centre.”

The shifting track was bad news for the Florida Keys, where the Monroe County administrator Roman Gastesi said on Friday: “This, folks, is the big one.” All but deserted from a mandatory evacuation order that came into effect in midweek, the near sea-level island chain was expected to be inundated by up to 15ft of water.

Officials reported that the mass evacuation of millions of residents of coastal and vulnerable areas close to inland water had mostly gone smoothly, despite shortages of fuel and gridlock on Florida’s major highways later in the week.

“Very few cars are out there, citizens have taken evacuation warnings very seriously, our shelters are beginning to get full,” said Scott Israel, sheriff of Broward County, where a 4pm curfew was ordered.

 

 

 

Further north in Georgia, another half-million coastal residents were told to evacuate, although the threat to states neighbouring Florida appeared to be diminishing.

In Miami-Dade county, almost 50,000 were without power, a number expected to grow. Carlos Gimenez, the mayor, said: “There have been rumours about Miami-Dade being in the clear, being safe. Let me make this clear, Miami-Dade is still being affected by Irma and there are already reports of hurricane force gusts. A serious storm is coming our way and will be here through Sunday.”

 

In Miami, the streets were virtually empty on Saturday morning, with all petrol stations, supermarkets and other commercial outlets closed. The city of 6 million was in a state of foreboding, waiting to find out what nature had in store for the fourth-largest US urban area.

In Tampa, grocery store shelves were bare of the essentials – bleach, soup, beans and bread. In one branch of the Publix supermarket, deliveries of ice were announced on a loud speaker with a two-bag maximum per person. Cases of water were also limited to two per person. Every shopper had water; nearly all had beer. Phone alarms rang continuously as weather warnings came in.

Irma claimed its first fatality in Florida on Friday when a 57-year-old man fell and hit his head attempting to put up hurricane shutters on a second-story window.

There was no official word from Donald Trump, but Governor Scott said he had been in almost constant touch with the White House and Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), which had pledged support for the recovery that will follow Irma’s passing.

“I’ve talked to President Trump, he has promised all federal resources [and] I’ve talked to Brock Long, who runs Fema, this morning, and he’s guaranteed us all federal resources,” Scott said.

“Florida’s tough, Florida’s resilient and Florida’s unbreakable. This is a great state and we’re going to come out of this very strong.”

                  The foreign office has a hotline for Britons affected by Hurricane Irma in the United States and the Caribbean: +44 207 008 0000

[Guardian UK]

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