FLORIDA –– People in the Florida Keys are putting up hurricane shutters and wooden boards on homes and businesses as powerful Hurricane Irma approaches a path that could take it to the United States by the weekend.
Trucks are hauling away boats and people are packing in preparation for leaving. Houses in the Keys stand at sea level, with parts of the main road to the Florida mainland going dangerously low.
At a trailer park, Janet Roberts was getting ready Tuesday to head to her daughter’s house in Florida City on the mainland after officials ordered residents and tourists to evacuate the area.
Roberts says she is terrified, saying she lost everything when Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992. In her words, “This has Andrew beat. This is really bad, really, really, really bad.
Florida residents are stocking up on supplies and preparing for Hurricane Irma. The storm was declared a category 4 hurricane. All of Florida is under a state of emergency.
Florida Governor Rick Scott is ordering the suspension of road tolls across the state as Hurricane Irma continues its ominous move toward the region.
Scott says tolls will be suspended to keep traffic flowing as residents begin to evacuate coastal areas in the potential path of the dangerous Category 5 storm.
The governor adds that tolls will remain suspended “for the duration of the storm’s impacts to Florida.”
Several important Florida highways are toll roads including the Florida Turnpike, which runs from 60 miles north of Orlando all the way to Miami-Dade County.
Water and basic foodstuffs are flying off the shelves of some stores in Florida as residents stock up ahead of Hurricane Irma.
Pablo Rodriguez surveyed the empty water aisle at a Fort Lauderdale Winn Dixie with dismay, saying “I was hoping to get a few cases.”
The 65-year-old said he would have to try other shops, because “all the people are stocking up quick.”
Theresa Webster, 60, of Fort Lauderdale had heard water was sold out at Publix but still available at Winn Dixie, but there was none by the time she got there in the afternoon.
She was also stocking up on canned tuna, crackers and bread.
Said Webster: “I got some water already but I wanted more.”
Hurricane Irma is the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
The United States National Hurricane Center says the Category 5 storm has winds of up to 185 mph (297 kph) as it approaches the Leeward Islands of the northeast Caribbean.
Experts say Irma’s strength is a result of unusually warm water for that part of the Atlantic.
Miami-Dade County’s mayor says residents and visitors should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach and most of the county’s coastal areas as Hurricane Irma heads toward Florida.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez says the voluntary evacuations could begin as soon as Wednesday evening.
Gimenez activated the emergency operation center and urged residents to have three days’ worth of food and water. The mayor reminded residents that tap water was a good resource, telling them to fill up bottles with tap water now.
All Miami-Dade County offices will be closed Thursday and Friday.
Officials in the Florida Keys are gearing up to get tourists and residents out of the possible path of Hurricane Irma.
Clark says government offices, parks and schools will close and there will be no shelters in Monroe County. The county’s three hospitals are also beginning evacuation plans.
Scott said Tuesday that the exact path of the storm is still unknown but officials “must prepare for the worst.”
States of emergency were declared in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and in all of Florida’s 67 counties.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned that all decisions taken in the next couple of hours would make a difference between life and death.