Braced for im­pact

Sunday News - - WORLD -

MI­AMI Hur­ri­cane Irma has trained its sights on Florida, and of­fi­cials are warn­ing more than 5 mil­lion peo­ple that time is run­ning out to evac­u­ate ahead of the deadly hur­ri­cane as it fol­lows a path that could take it from one end of the state to the other.

Yes­ter­day evening, Irma had moved from a slightly weak­ened Cat­e­gory 4 storm with winds of 250kmh, back up to Cat­e­gory 5 and was ex­pected to come ashore near Key West to­day.

Fore­cast­ers had ad­justed the storm’s po­ten­tial track more to­wards the west coast of Florida, away from the Mi­ami metropoli­tan area of 6 mil­lion peo­ple, mean­ing ‘‘a less costly, a less deadly storm’’, Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami re­searcher Brian McNoldy said.

Nev­er­the­less, fore­cast­ers have warned that its hur­ri­cane-force winds are so wide they could reach from coast to coast, test­ing the United States’ third-largest state, which has un­der­gone rapid de­vel­op­ment and more strin­gent hur­ri­cane-proof build­ing codes in the last decade or so.

‘‘This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,’’ Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­tre me­te­o­rol­o­gist Den­nis Felt­gen said. ‘‘Everybody’s go­ing to feel this one.’’

Fuel short­ages and grid­lock have plagued the evac­u­a­tions in Florida, turn­ing nor­mally sim­ple trips into tests of will.

‘‘We’re get­ting out of this state,’’ said Manny Zu­niga, who left his home in Mi­ami on Fri­day to avoid the grid­lock. ‘‘Irma is go­ing to take all of Florida.’’

De­spite driv­ing overnight, it still took him 12 hours to reach Or­lando – a trip that nor­mally takes four hours. From there, he and his wife, two children, two dogs and a fer­ret were headed to Arkansas.

In one of the coun­try’s largest evac­u­a­tions, about 5.6 mil­lion peo­ple in Florida – more than onequar­ter of the state’s pop­u­la­tion – have been or­dered to evac­u­ate, and an­other 540,000 have been told to leave the Ge­or­gia coast.

Au­thor­i­ties have opened hun­dreds of shel­ters for peo­ple who can­not leave. Ho­tels as far away as At­lanta are fill­ing up with evac­uees.

‘‘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,’’ Florida Gover­nor Rick Scott said.

Tony Mar­cel­lus racked his brain to fig­ure out a way to get his 67-year-old mother and 85-year-old grand­fa­ther out of their home five blocks from the ocean in West Palm Beach. He lives nearly 1000km away, in At­lanta.

He checked flights but found noth­ing, and rental cars were booked out, so he set­tled on a mod­ern method of evac­u­a­tion. He hired an Uber car to pick them up and drive them 270km to Or­lando, where he met them to take them to At­lanta. He gave the driver a nice tip.

‘‘I have peace of mind now,’’ said Mar­cel­lus’s mother, Ce­line Jean. ‘‘I’ve been wor­ried sick for days.’’

Sev­eral small, poor com­muni- ties around Lake Okee­chobee in the south-cen­tral part of Florida were added to the evac­u­a­tion list be­cause the lake may over­flow. Many peo­ple in the area said they wouldn’t leave be­cause they ei­ther had no trans­porta­tion or nowhere to go.

Mi­ami-Dade County Mayor Car­los Gimenez said he planned for enough shel­ter space to hold 100,000 peo­ple be­fore the storm ar­rived, although most shel­ters were only be­gin­ning to fill yes­ter­day.

Hur­ri­cane An­drew in 1992 REUTERS re­vealed how lax build­ing codes had be­come in the coun­try’s most storm-prone state, and Florida be­gan re­quir­ing stur­dier con­struc­tion.

Ex­perts say the mon­strously strong Irma could be the most se­ri­ous test of Florida’s storm­wor­thi­ness since then.

An­drew razed Mi­ami’s sub­urbs with winds top­ping 265kmh, dam­ag­ing or blow­ing apart over 125,000 homes. The dam­age to­talled US$26 bil­lion in Florida’s most pop­u­lous ar­eas. At least 40 peo­ple were killed across the state.

CoreLogic, a con­sul­tant to in­sur­ers, es­ti­mated that al­most 8.5 mil­lion Florida homes or com­mer­cial prop­er­ties were at ex­treme, very high or high risk of wind dam­age from Irma.

Po­lice in the Fort Laud­erdale sub­urb of Davie said a 57-year-old man who had been hired to in­stall hur­ri­cane shut­ters died after fall­ing about five me­tres from a lad­der and hit­ting his head on a pool deck.

Fore­cast­ers are pre­dict­ing a storm surge of 2m to 3m above ground level along Florida’s south­west coast and in the Florida Keys. As much as 30 cen­time­tres of rain could fall. AP

Hur­ri­cane Irma passes the east­ern end of Cuba en route to Florida in this Nasa satel­lite im­age.

Ve­hi­cles are backed up along the north­bound lanes of In­ter­state 75 in Florida as res­i­dents flee. Some have gone as far as At­lanta.

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