More than five million people across Florida have been ordered to evacuate and thousands crammed into shelters. Gov. Rick Scott sounded dire warnings about the storm Saturday morning, urging residents in evacuation zones to leave their homes immediately.
“Once the storm starts, law enforcement cannot save you,” Scott said at a news conference in Sarasota.
Irma’s track shifted overnight: The eye of the storm is now expected to head up the state’s west coast, rather than the middle. Naples, Fort Myers and Tampa are now expected to bear the brunt of the storm. But because of the size of the hurricane, Florida’s east coast remains in danger, including from storm surges that will easily overwhelm some areas. But before the storm reaches the peninsula, the Florida Keys will experience its full force.
Regardless of its track, all of Florida will likely experience damaging winds, rains, flooding and possibly tornadoes.
“This is a deadly storm and our state has never seen anything like it,” Scott said.
Counties including Broward have issued curfews and at least 70 more shelters will open across the state Saturday. At least 50,000 people are staying in 260 state shelters, Scott said. He implored nurses to volunteer throughout Florida; the state desperately needs 1,000 nurses in its special needs shelters.
Officials are also concerned that wind gusts will send water over the Herbert Hoover Dike that holds back Lake Okeechobee, which covers more than 700 square miles. Evacuations have been ordered for cities and towns on the south side of the lake in Hendry, Palm Beach and Glades counties.
After days of calm, ordinary summer weather, residents here woke Saturday to powerful wind gusts and bouts of torrential rain before dawn, followed by calm conditions again under low, gray clouds. Irma’s outermost bands appear to have arrived. With the storm still more than 200 miles away, Miami International Airport clocked a wind gust of 57 mph just after 7:30 a.m. Saturday. Nearly 25,000 people have already lost power across the state as of Saturday morning. Florida Power and Light said 4.1 million people across the state could lose power as a result of the storm, and Scott said utility crews are standing by in Florida and surrounding states to get power back as soon as possible after the storm moves out.
As of 5 a.m. Saturday, Irma had maximum sustained winds near 155 mph and higher gusts as it moved over Cuba’s Camaguey Archipelago as a Category 4 storm, the hurricane center said. The storm decimated Caribbean islands, killing at least 22 people. In St. Martin, 25 United States citizens were evacuated on a C130 military aircraft Friday from Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort. Resort officials said another evacuation is expected. Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda, said Barbuda is “uninhabitable” and in a “total blackout” with almost all of its infrastructure wiped out.
For some families, the hurricane has affected loved ones in both the Caribbean and now Florida.
Since early Wednesday, when Hurricane Irma tore across the Caribbean island of St. Martin, Gretchen and Peter Bogacz have been hunkered down at the Hotel L’Esplanade with no power or running water, trying to get information about whether assistance was on the way. But with the airport seriously damaged, there was no way out.
Meanwhile, Irma was headed toward their 12-year-old daughter Isabella and Peter Bogacz’s parents, who planned to ride out the storm together at home in Sarasota, Florida.
The situation is overwhelming for Gretchen’s sister, Natalie Grinnell, who is urgently monitoring the forecasts from her home in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“My worry for my loved ones is pervasive,” she wrote in an email to the Post.
In the United States, local, state and federal officials have offered ominous warnings as the storm zeroed in on Florida, making clear how much danger they felt the Sunshine State could face in coming days. William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, urged people from Alabama to North Carolina to monitor and prepare for the storm, calling it “a threat that is going to devastate the United States, either Florida or some of the southeastern states.”
About 5.6 million people in Florida and 540,000 in Georgia have been ordered to evacuate. Airports throughout Florida and in Savannah, Georgia, were closed.
In Pompano Beach, the winds picked up and the skies darkened Saturday morning. At a shelter inside Pompano Beach High School, video of Irma’s devastation in the Caribbean are constantly being aired on two big-screen TVs set up in the high school cafeteria, where 280 evacuees have sheltered in place. A breakfast of Cheerios or yogurt, apple juice, biscuits and – what else – a Florida orange were served up by several school employees staying until the storm passes. On Friday night, sheriff’s deputies handed about 40 children ice cream cones with sprinkles.
The shelter is one of 20 set up by Broward County. Three are pet-friendly, though not the one at the high school. One is specifically for people with special medical needs.
About 80 people with special needs and seniors huddled at a shelter Gainesville set up in a senior center. Betty Sodders, 80, was evacuated from her home in Archer, Florida.
“They called me on Friday and said pack a pillow and a blanket, and then they came and picked me up,” Sodder said.
But here in Miami, some stayed put. The night before Irma was expected to torpedo through the city, South Beach was deserted, shelters were overflowing and last minute preparations were underway.
But it wouldn’t be Miami if the night life completely died with the storm.
Locals packed bars in Coconut Grove, drinking and watching the U.S. Open and the Miami Marlins game. There was a 45 minute wait for a table at Happy Wine. The restaurant altered people that it was business as usual by writing “We’re Open” in big red letters on the plywood that covered its windows.
And people seemed to get the message. Bartender Edgar Escorche said he had opened at least 150 bottles of wine Friday evening. Parking was even hard to find around the small restaurant.
At Flanigan’s Seafood Bar & Grill, Julio Blanco, a Miami Beach police officer, said he’s been working around the clock this past week while and prepping his own condo. He isn’t working during the storm, but expects to have to return to help with recovery.
But before he clocks back in, he said he just wants to enjoy a bottle of wine with his wife.
“This is my way to thank and reward myself,” Blanco said. “And it’s such a daunting storm, we don’t know what’s going to happen. At least tonight, I am giving a little to myself and my wife.”
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)