Florida res­i­dents flee as Irma ap­proaches

Thou­sands clog roads as gover­nor warns of ‘life-threat­en­ing im­pacts’

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Scott Dance

Half a mil­lion Florid­i­ans be­gan to flee the coast Thurs­day ahead of the state’s gravest hurricane threat in a gen­er­a­tion.

South Florida was un­der a hurricane watch, with the outer bands of Hurricane Irma’s life-threat­en­ing winds and storm surge ex­pected to ar­rive by day­break Satur­day. Ge­or­gia was also on guard as me­te­o­rol­o­gists worked to re­fine a fore­cast that could in­clude a hit to the South­east­ern coast. Half a mil­lion urged to evac­u­ate Ge­or­gia NEWS PG 6 Florida won­ders if this is the “Big One” NEWS PG 6

Irma, which had main­tained Cat­e­gory 5 strength for a record 66 hours as of Thurs­day evening, is not ex­pected to weaken be­fore reach­ing the main­land United States. It had winds of 165 mph as it closed in on Turks and Caicos and the Ba­hamas, and was ex­pected to re­main a Cat­e­gory 4 or 5 storm for days, sur­rounded by warm wa­ters.

Me­te­o­rol­o­gists urged South Florida res­i­dents to make prepa­ra­tions for the mas­sive storm by Fri­day night.

“It is wider than our en­tire state and could cause ma­jor and life-threat­en­ing im­pacts from coast to coast,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “Re­gard­less of which coast you live on, be pre­pared to evac­u­ate.”

The Na­tional Hurricane Cen­ter mean­while warned of chances that the storm

could strike Ge­or­gia or the Caroli­nas af­ter tear­ing through the Sun­shine State. Some fore­cast­ing mod­els sug­gested that Irma could hit the South­east­ern coast Mon­day or Tues­day, po­ten­tially as a ma­jor storm with winds greater than 111 mph.

Long-term fore­casts sug­gest the storm will even­tu­ally move in­land toward the Ohio Val­ley, bring­ing rainy, windy weather to Maryland around Tues­day.

But while fore­cast­ers at the weather ser­vice’s Bal­ti­more/ Washington of­fice said any im­pact from the storm would not com­pare to con­di­tions in the Caribbean, they cau­tioned that flood­ing, dam­ag­ing winds and tor­na­does are pos­si­ble here.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan urged Mary­lan­ders to pre­pare for some im­pact, “while we have the ben­e­fit of time.”

As many as half a mil­lion peo­ple were or­dered to leave their homes in South Florida on Thurs­day, caus­ing grid­lock on north­bound high­ways. Irma could be the first Cat­e­gory 5 hurricane to hit Florida since An­drew in 1992, which had 165 mph winds and killed 65 peo­ple.

Ge­or­gia Gov. Nathan Deal or­dered evac­u­a­tions for all ar­eas east of In­ter­state 95, in­clud­ing the city of Sa­van­nah, and au­tho­rized about 5,000 Na­tional Guard mem­bers to help with re­sponse and re­cov­ery.

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 that that city was also Storm dam­age is ex­ten­sive in Marigot, near the Bay of Net­tle, on the French por­tion of St. Martin af­ter the pas­sage of Hurricane Irma. shut­ting down be­cause of the storm. Mars­den wasn’t sure where they’ll 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.

Af­ter Hurricane Har­vey, which dev­as­tated south­east­ern Texas last month, Irma could be just the sec­ond ma­jor hurricane to make land­fall in the U.S. since Wilma — which also struck Florida — in 2005.

Images of wa­ter res­cues and sub­merged homes across Hous­ton were prompt­ing many to take Irma’s threat more se­ri­ously than they might oth­er­wise. Jenna Wulf, a na­tive Florid­ian who is six months preg­nant, said that con­sid­er­ing what Har­vey did, she stocked up on wa­ter and was clos­ing hurricane shut­ters on her home in sub­ur­ban Plan­ta­tion.

“I think it’s such dev­as­ta­tion that you’d be silly not to go through the mo­tions,” she said.

The first is­lands hit by Irma were scenes of ter­ri­ble de­struc­tion Thurs­day.

French Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe said four peo­ple were con­firmed dead and about 50 in­jured on the French side of St. Martin, an island split be­tween Dutch and French con­trol. The toll could rise be­cause res­cue teams had yet to get a com­plete look at the dam­age.

At least three peo­ple were killed in the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, of­fi­cials said. They de­scribed the dam­age as cat­a­strophic, say­ing crews were strug­gling to re­open roads.

The Bri­tish island of An­guilla, in­de­pen­dent Bar­buda and the Dutch side of St. Martin to­gether ac­counted for three more re­ported deaths.

About a mil­lion peo­ple were with­out power in Puerto Rico af­ter Irma sideswiped the island Wednesday night, but there were no im­me­di­ate re­ports of ca­su­al­ties.

The sever­ity and di­rec­tion of Irma’s wrath on the U.S. main­land will de­pend on where the storm makes an ex­pected right turn toward the north. Hurricane cen­ter fore­cast­ers said the tim­ing of the turn re­mains “filled with un­cer­tainty.”

If the hurricane veers right soon enough, it could rake the Ba­hamas but avoid a di­rect strike on Florida. It could turn later and go up the Gulf coast or it could buzz right up the South Florida coast, putting mil­lions of peo­ple in the path of a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion hurricane.

Still, at roughly 400 miles wide, the hurricane is vir­tu­ally cer­tain to af­fect South Florida, whether through a few days of rainy, windy weather, a di­rect hit or some­thing in be­tween. Hurricane-force winds ex­tend 50 miles from the cen­ter and trop­i­cal-force winds ex­tend 185 miles from the cen­ter.

“The odds are def­i­nitely look­ing worse for the east coast of Florida, given the latest set of model runs,” said Jeff Masters, me­te­o­rol­ogy direc­tor for the web­site Weather Un­der­ground, who used to fly on NOAA Hurricane Hunters. “It’s un­usual to have the top four mod­els all give the same track in ad­vance, and they’re all do­ing that now.”

Two other hur­ri­canes spin­ning in the At­lantic basin are not fore­cast to af­fect the United States. Jose, which be­came a ma­jor hurricane Thurs­day af­ter­noon in the mid­dle of the At­lantic, could brush the north­ern Caribbean but — at least for now — is ex­pected to turn out to sea be­fore mak­ing any land­fall. Ka­tia, the other storm, is ex­pected to hit Mex­ico’s Gulf Coast late Fri­day.

Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane re­searcher at Colorado State Uni­ver­sity, said it was only the fourth time on record there have si­mul­ta­ne­ously been three hur­ri­canes, two of which are ma­jor storms, in the At­lantic.

MIKE STOCKER/TNS

North­bound traf­fic on the turn­pike in Sun­rise, Fla., was back­ing up in the rain Thurs­day as res­i­dents heeded warn­ings to evac­u­ate be­fore Hurricane Irma’s force was fully felt in the state.

LIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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