Shelters open to 75,000 Floridians as Irma nears
by Leigh Jones
Posted 9/09/17, 06:25 pm
UPDATE: The National Hurricane Center has extended storm surge warnings along Florida’s east and west coasts as Irma spins closer to landfall. The Category 3 storm whipped up 125 mph winds Saturday afternoon, but forecasters expect it to strengthen into a Category 4 storm before crashing into the Florida Keys. It’s likely to make a second landfall at Cape Coral or Fort Myers, charging over Tampa next. Forecasters say Irma will head out to sea again and make a third landfall north of Homosassa Springs. Officials warn the storm could inundate coastal areas with 10 to 15 feet of water. Hurricane-force winds are expected by Sunday morning. Gov. Rick Scott ordered evacuations for another 700,000 Florida residents Saturday, bringing the total number of evacuations to 6.3 million—about one-third of the state. By Saturday afternoon, 75,000 people had sought shelter in state-run evacuation centers. During a news conference, Scott urged anyone who hadn’t left to take shelter immediately: “This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen.”
OUR EARLIER REPORT (10:15 a.m.): Irma strengthened back to a Category 5 hurricane Saturday morning but changed direction just slightly. Weather forecasters now say the massive storm won’t make a direct hit on Miami. They predict the storm will rake over the Florida Keys before making landfall in the southwest portion of the state, eventually barreling over Tampa on its way north. If Irma misses Miami, home to 6 million people, it will be “a less costly, a less deadly storm,” University of Miami researcher Brian McNoldy said. But officials caution Floridians not to ignore Irma’s deadly and destructive potential. Gov. Rick Scott has ordered 5.6 million people, about one-quarter of the state’s residents, to evacuate. Late Friday, police in Miami began arresting homeless people who refused to leave or seek shelter. “If you are planning to leave and do not leave tonight, you will have to ride out this extremely dangerous storm at your own risk,” Scott said Friday. Irma ravaged the Caribbean earlier this week, leaving more than 20 people dead. It is expected to make landfall Sunday.
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Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.