Hurricane Irma con­tin­ues to thrash its way toward Florida

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Joel Achenbach, Pa­tri­cia Sul­li­van and Mark Ber­man

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.

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