Hurricane Irma continues to thrash its way toward Florida
MIAMI » Florida officials urged residents in floodprone coastal communities to get out while they can, ordering evacuations in the face of oncoming Hurricane Irma, which could make landfall Sunday and inf lict massive destruction not seen in the state since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Hurricanes have teased South Florida many times, but officials here at the National Hurricane Center said this is shaping up as a once-in-a-generation storm. Forecasters adjusted their advisory late Thursday, projecting Irma to hit the tip of the peninsula, slamming the population centers of South Florida before grinding northward.
“This storm has the potential to catastrophically devastate our state,” Gov. Rick Scott, R, said in a late-day news briefing. Earlier, he implored people to evacuate. “If you live in any evacuation zones and you’re still at home, leave.”
The state’s highways were jammed, gas was scarce, airports were deluged and mandatory evacuations began to roll out as the first official hurricane watches were issued for the region. Irma, which has been ravaging the Caribbean islands as it sweeps across the Atlantic, is expected to hit the Florida peninsula with massive storm surges and crippling winds that could affect nearly every metropolitan area in South Florida
he hurricane center said Thursday afternoon that should Irma’s eye move through the center of the state, extreme winds and heavy rains could strafe an area that has millions of residents, from Miami in the east to Naples on the Gulf Coast. Because the eastern side of the storm is the most powerful, numer- ous cities along the east coast could face extreme conditions.
Miami-Dade County ordered some mandatory evacuations, including for Key Biscayne and Miami Beach, as well as for areas in the southern half of the county that are not protected by barrier islands.
“EVACUATE Miami Beach!” Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine tweeted, later noting in a news release that once winds top 40 mph, first responders will no longer be dispatched on rescue missions here.
Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said evacuations in coastal areas were slated for Thursday. Lee County, on the Gulf Coast, announced Thursday afternoon that all the barrier islands — Sanibel, Captiva, Pine Island, Bonita Beach and Fort Myers Beach — will be under mandatory evacuation orders Friday.
Scott has declared a statewide emergency and warned that in addition to potentially forcing largescale evacuations, Irma could batter areas that last year were flooded by Hurricane Matthew. States of emergency also were declared in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. On Thursday, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia expanded his declaration from six coastal counties to 30 total counties, issuing a mandatory evacuation for some areas.
Residents in Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, began to barricade their homes and flee the coast Thursday. Republican Gov. Henry McMaster warned South Carolinians that a mandatory evacuation of the state’s coastline will probably come Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Such an evacuation would come with a reversal of all eastbound lanes of four major roadways, including Interstate 26, which would be converted for a westbound escape from Charleston to Columbia.