Florida needs to brace for a storm worse than Hurricane Andrew: governor

MIAMI — Florida residents on both the west and east coast of the state should prepare to evacuate because of the “huge” size of Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday, issuing an ominous warning that this storm is “bigger, faster and stronger” than Hurricane Andrew.

“Regardless of which coast you live on, be prepared to evacuate. Floridians on the West Coast cannot be complacent,” he said.

Scott also encouraged those under mandatory evacuation orders to listen to their local leaders: “The roads are gonna get worse the longer you wait.”

In Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale and other cities north of Miami, a mandatory evacuation will go into effect at noon Thursday for some areas, Mayor Barbara Sharief said.

Miami-Dade County ordered people out in some areas, including mobile homes and barrier islands.

Scott warned that Irma is “bigger, faster and stronger” than Hurricane Andrew, the last Category 5 storm to hit the state and which devastated parts of South Florida in 1992.

It has been almost 25 years since Florida took a hit from a Category 5 storm. Hurricane Andrew struck just south of Miami in 1992 with winds topping 165 mph, killing 65 people and inflicting $26 billion in damage. It was at the time the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.

The latest models

A hurricane watch was issued Thursday for  portions of southern Florida and the Florida Keys as Irma roars toward the state after it ripped through the Caribbean, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Some computer models show it could churn near Florida’s southern and east coasts by early Sunday.

Around 8 a.m. ET, Irma’s center was about 110 miles north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, moving west-northwest with maximum sustained winds of 180 mph — well above the 157 mph threshold of a Category 5 storm.

Irma has maintained intensity above 180 mph longer than any storm in Atlantic basin history.

Preparations underway

Florida’s governor said he has directed state law enforcement to escort gas trucks to gas stations in an attempt to address reported fuel shortages. Many spent Wednesday stocking up on food or making plans to head inland.

“We know fuel is very important” as people prepare to evacuate inland, he said. “While we’re making progress, you will see lines and outages, unfortunately.”

 

Irma is one of three active hurricanes in the Atlantic basin — the last time this happened was in 2010. Jose, in the open Atlantic far to the southeast of Irma, has become a hurricane, as has Katia in the Gulf of Mexico.

The tropical storm-force wind field from Irma stretches over 300 miles from end to end. If it were centered over New York City, the tropical storm-force winds would stretch from Baltimore to Boston.

Florida is not the only state preparing for possible impact.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency for all 100 counties, while his Georgia counterpart, Nathan Deal, issued a state of emergency for six coastal counties. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also declared a state of emergency.