Magnitude of Irma drives massive evacuation from Florida

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Magnitude of Irma drives massive evacuation from Florida
Magnitude of Irma drives massive evacuation from Florida

MIAMI (AP) – Hurricane Irma’s relentless advance on Florida narrowed the window for residents to get to safely, with the latest forecasts shifting landfall southwest of the heavily populated Miami metro area.

The enormous storm regained Category 5 status late Friday as winds hit 160 mph (260 kph). Forecasters expect the storm to be near the Florida Keys on Sunday morning and approach the state’s southwest coast by that afternoon.

In one of the country’s largest evacuations, about 5.6 million people in Florida – more than one-quarter of the state’s population – were ordered to leave, and another 540,000 were ordered out on the Georgia coast. Authorities opened hundreds of shelters for people who did not leave. Hotels as far away as Atlanta filled up with evacuees.

“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,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said.

The governor urged everybody in the Keys, where forecasters expect the storm to hit first, to get out.

Ray Scarborough and girlfriend Leah Etmanczyk left their home in Big Pine Key and fled north with her parents and three big dogs to stay with relatives in Orlando. Scarborough was 12 when Hurricane Andrew hit and remembers lying on the floor in a hallway as the storm nearly ripped the roof off his house.

“They said this one is going to be bigger than Andrew. When they told me that, that’s all I needed to hear,” said Scarborough, now a 37-year-old boat captain. “That one tore everything apart.”

Their house in the Keys, up on 6-foot stilts, has flooded before.

“This isn’t out first rodeo. Andrew was a wicked storm. Wilma was a wicked storm. This one is going to be worse. Then we’ll go home and rebuild, like we always do,” said Etmanczyk, a 29-year-old teacher.

Forecasters adjusted the storm’s potential track more toward the west coast of Florida, away from the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people, meaning “a less costly, a less deadly storm,” University of Miami researcher Brian McNoldy said.

Nevertheless, forecasters warned that its hurricane-force winds were so wide they could reach from coast to coast, testing the nation’s third-largest state, which has undergone rapid development and more stringent hurricane-proof building codes in the last decade or so.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said. “Everybody’s going to feel this one.”

Irma killed at least 20 people in the Caribbean and left thousands homeless as it devastated small resort islands known for their warm, turquoise water.

In Florida, gas shortages and gridlock plagued the evacuations, turning normally simple trips into tests of will. Parts of interstates 75 and 95 north were bumper-to-bumper, while very few cars drove in the southbound lanes.

“We’re getting out of this state,” said Manny Zuniga, who left his home in Miami at midnight Thursday to avoid the gridlock. “Irma is going to take all of Florida.”

Despite driving overnight, he still took 12 hours to reach Orlando – a trip that normally takes four hours. From there, he and his wife, two children, two dogs and a ferret were headed to Arkansas.

Andrew razed Miami’s suburbs with winds topping 165 mph (265 kph), damaging or blowing apart over 125,000 homes. Almost all mobile homes in its path were obliterated. The damage totaled $26 billion in Florida’s most-populous areas. At least 40 people were killed in Florida.

Police in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Davie said a 57-year-old man who had been hired to install hurricane shutters Thursday morning died after falling about 15 feet (5 meters) from a ladder and hitting his head on a pool deck. The man’s name wasn’t immediately released.

With winds that peaked at 185 mph (300 kph), Irma was once the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic.

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Galofaro reported from Orlando. Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington; Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Terrance Harris in Orlando and David Fischer in Miami contributed to this report.

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A man walks along the beach at sunrise ahead of Hurricane Irma in Daytona Beach, Fla., Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Coastal residents around South Florida have been ordered to evacuate as the killer storm closes in on the peninsula for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Ryan Kaye loads sandbags into his truck at a makeshift filling station provided by the county as protection ahead of Hurricane Irma, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Palm Coast, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A child walks past a ride sitting empty at an amusement park along the boardwalk ahead of Hurricane Irma in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. South Florida officials are expanding evacuation orders as Hurricane Irma approaches, telling more than a half-million people to seek safety inland. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Residents fill up sandbags Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, in Orlando, Fla., as they prepare for Hurricane Irma. Long lines of vehicles waited for hours to get a 10 sandbag limit at the City of Orlando Public Works. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Jone Yoon boards up his beach souvenir shop ahead of Hurricane Irma in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. South Florida officials are expanding evacuation orders as Hurricane Irma approaches, telling more than a half-million people to seek safety inland. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Northbound traffic, right, on I-75 through Sarasota, Fla., is heavier than normal, but still moving on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Many South Florida residents are evacuating and heading north as Hurricane Irma approaches. (Mike Lang /Sarasota Herald-Tribune via AP)
Richard Jay, left, and his wife Shanta board up their motel ahead of Hurricane Irma in Daytona Beach, Fla., Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Coastal residents around South Florida have been ordered to evacuate as the killer storm closes in on the peninsula for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Shay Rymer, a native of Houston, Texas, helps boards up the motel he’s living in ahead of Hurricane Irma in Daytona Beach, Fla., Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Rymer has family recovering from Hurricane Harvey’s flooding in Houston as he now prepares to take shelter and ride out Hurricane Irma in the motel. Coastal residents around South Florida have been ordered to evacuate as the killer storm closes in on the peninsula for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A note is posted to a gas pump after the station ran out of gas ahead of Hurricane Irma in Daytona Beach, Fla., Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Coastal residents around South Florida have been ordered to evacuate as the killer storm closes in on the peninsula for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Leonel Geronimo, stuffs food into his suitcase as he and others wait for a bus in anticipation of Hurricane Irma in Miami Beach, Fla., Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Geronimo wants to get to a shelter off the beach, but is not sure what bus to take or which shelter to go. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
Hanz Paez, left, and Cirous Amiri, right buy wood at a Home Depot in South Miami Dade to secure their property in anticipation of Hurricane Irma early Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 in Miami, Fla. The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Irma weakened a bit more but remains a powerful threat to Florida. (AP Photo/Gaston De Cardenas)
Customers at a Home Depot in South Miami Dade buy building materials to secure their property in anticipation of Hurricane Irma early Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 in Miami, Fla. The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Irma weakened a bit more but remains a powerful threat to Florida. (AP Photo/Gaston De Cardenas)
Luis Garcia, right, packs a car that he and five other members of his extended family will use to evacuate north from their home in Miami Beach, Fla, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Cuba evacuated tourists from beachside resorts and Floridians emptied stores of plywood and bottled water after Hurricane Irma left at least 20 people dead and thousands homeless on a devastated string of Caribbean islands and spun toward Florida for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Heavy traffic traveling north bound on Interstate 75 moves slowly, as a major evacuation has begun in preparation for Hurricane Irma, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Forrest Park, south of Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
In this geocolor image GOES-16 satellite image taken Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, at 11:45 UTC, sunlight, from the right, illuminates Hurricane Irma as the storm approaches Cuba and Florida. Cuba evacuated tourists from beachside resorts and Floridians emptied stores of plywood and bottled water after Hurricane Irma left at least 20 people dead and thousands homeless on a devastated string of Caribbean islands and spun toward Florida for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend. (NOAA via AP)
Sandbags sit outside a police station office as a worker secures the grounds of a hotel along the beach ahead of Hurricane Irma in Daytona Beach, Fla., Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Coastal residents around South Florida have been ordered to evacuate as the killer storm closes in on the peninsula for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Workers dismantle the facade of a funhouse at an amusement park ahead of Hurricane Irma in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. South Florida officials are expanding evacuation orders as Hurricane Irma approaches, telling more than a half-million people to seek safety inland. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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