Florida governor working to replenish fuel supplies
"Once the evacuation order is given, don't wait around," Sen. Bill Nelson says
Floridians began a mass exodus on Thursday as Hurricane Irma, the powerful Category 5 storm, plowed through the Caribbean toward the Sunshine State.
Thousands of cars headed north, causing interstate backups and slowdowns. Drivers waited for hours at gas stations, some of which ran out of fuel. Travelers stood in line for hours at airports.
Based on Irma’s projected path, which includes Florida’s heavily populated eastern coast, the enormous storm could create one of the largest mass evacuations in US history, CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen said. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties combined have about 6 million people.
“We cannot save you when the storm starts,” Scott said. “So if you are in an evacuation zone and you need help, you need to tell us now.”
The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane and storm surge warnings for South Florida on Thursday night.
“You do not want to leave on Saturday, driving through Florida with tropical storm force winds,” CNN meteorologist Tom Sater said. He said the latest Floridians should evacuate is Friday morning.
‘Three lanes of red bumper lights’
Rosanne Lesack, her husband and three children left Boca Raton on Wednesday and headed to Atlanta to stay with friends. They encountered slow traffic, spent the night in Orlando and continued north Thursday morning, Lesack said.
They left Boca Raton on Wednesday and headed to Atlanta to stay with friends, she said. After encountering slow traffic, the family spent the night at a motel in Orlando and continued north Thursday morning, Lesack said.
“What should have been another six or seven-hour travel experience is coming up on 12 hours,” she said Thursday night while about 35 miles south of Atlanta. “It has been slow. Right now we’re going about 20 mph. … It’s just three lanes of red bumper lights.”
Last year, the family stayed with friends in Florida and rode out Hurricane Matthew, she said. They decided not to chance it this year, but know people who stayed.
“Now there are a lot of people who are really nervous about staying but don’t feel like they get out,” Lesack said.
In Florida, mandatory evacuations wee ordered for parts of Miami-Dade County, Broward County east of US 1, Palm Beach County, low-lying parts of Brevard County, and Monroe County, home to the Florida Keys. More than 30,000 people evacuated Monroe County alone, Scott said.
Monroe County Administrator Ramon Gastesi stressed to residents in the Keys they need to heed the evacuation order and leave.
All hospitals would be closed and ambulances gone as of Friday morning, including air ambulances, he said.
“You might as well leave now, while you have a chance, because when you dial 9-1-1 – you will not get an answer,” he said.
The Florida Department of Transportation released traffic counts showing extremely heavy traffic on Thursday, such as 4,000 vehicles on I-75 northbound in Lake City, compared to a norm of 1,000. About 1,800 vehicles traveled on I-75 in Collier County, compared to a norm of 600. Other roads showed smaller increases.
Though nobody knows exactly where Irma will make landfall, the governors of Georgia and South Carolina decided not to take any chances. They ordered mandatory evacuations of low-lying coastal areas around Savannah and Charleston.
Other eastern Florida population centers could also see similar evacuations soon, depending on the path of the hurricane, which is expected to near Miami on Sunday.
“Look at the size of this storm,” Scott said Thursday. “It is wider than our entire state and could cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast. Regardless of what coast you live on, be prepared to evacuate. Floridians on the west coast cannot be complacent.”