Floridians on Wednesday prepared to evacuate or hunker down as a ferocious Hurricane Irma kept the state firmly in its projected path.
Local officials in the South Florida’s largest population centers started to plan evacuations and open storm shelters.
“If people are looking to leave the state, then they need to leave in plenty of time so they don’t get caught in the evacuation,” Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.
Miami-Dade County planned to start evacuations of Miami Beach and mainland coastal areas Wednesday or Thursday, potentially displacing 420,000 people who could be affected by flooding.
Many South Florida gas stations were out of fuel — and the ones who weren’t had long lines. All over the state, store shelves have been cleared of bottled water and batteries since Tuesday, when Irma strengthened into a Category 5 storm. Large retailers like Walmart and Home Depot were sending more supplies.
Commercial flights out of the area were scarce.
Many said they learned from the mistakes they made when Hurricane Hermine hit last year. Others are motivated by the scenes of devastation in Houston, where Hurricane Harvey hit as a Category 4 on Aug. 25.
“We weren’t really prepared for the last one. We were all like, ‘yeah, whatever’. And this one is much bigger and much scarier so I think it’s just throwing people off,” Brittany Peters said in Tallahassee as she shopped for supplies.
President Donald Trump said he is closely monitoring the storm, which is the largest ever recorded in the Atlantic basin outside the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
“Watching Hurricane closely. My team, which has done, and is doing, such a good job in Texas, is already in Florida. No rest for the weary!” the president wrote in another.
Florida is expected to feel tropical storm force winds beginning Friday, with the storm expected to make landfall on Sunday.