As Hurricane Irma weaves a trail of destruction in the Caribbean, authorities in the U.S. are bracing for the Category 5 storm’s weekend arrival with preemptive mass evacuations, preparations at emergency shelters and warnings to millions of citizens to get ready for what could be the most powerful storm ever recorded in U.S. history.
Irma, which has caused at least 10 deaths so far, is expected to hit South Florida on Sunday morning and possibly Georgia and North and South Carolina by early Monday, bringing high winds, torrential rains and potential widespread flooding that could destroy homes, businesses and roads.
The government, businesses and safety organizations have issued guidance that can help older residents of the region get ready for Irma’s arrival.
- In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott urged all residents to be prepared to evacuate and is recommending that families stockpile three days of water and food per person. Scott has also directed state law enforcement to escort fuel trucks to gas stations to alleviate shortages. According to the fuel-tracking website gasbuddy.com, up to one-third of service stations in some of Florida’s biggest metropolitan areas are out of gasoline.
- Residents who are leaving the evacuation zone by highway can check Google Maps for real-time updates on road closures, Scott also announced. Another option for checking road closures is FL511.com. The state has waived all tolls on its highways for the duration of the storm’s effects.
- Airlines have canceled more than 1,000 Friday and Saturday flights, mostly to and from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and the Florida Keys. Delta has added earlier flights and will allow passengers affected by Irma to rebook without paying extra fees. Some airlines are also waiving flight-change fees for most fliers still holding tickets for trips to or from Florida, and several carriers capped fares at $99 one way on some flights out of Florida that still had available seats.
- Because the governor declared a state of emergency in all counties, the time restrictions on prescription medication refills have been waived. Evacuees are asked to make sure they carry a large enough supply of vital medications (a week's worth or more) to last until after the storm passes.
- Veterans who live in the areas that could be affected by Hurricane Irma who might require immediate assistance should contact the VA Health Resource Center Disaster Hotline at 800-507-4571.
States of emergency have already been declared in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
- South Carolina could order evacuations as early as Friday if necessary. Some cities, such as Mount Pleasant, are opening do-it-yourself sandbag-filling stations and distributing filled sandbags for free on a first-come, first-served basis.
- North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Hurricane Irma could cause problems for all of the state’s 100 counties. State officials are urging residents to stock up on food, water and prescription medicines. The state’s emergency management department recommends that smartphone users download the Ready NC app, which includes suggestions on emergency kits, evacuation routes and shelter locations.
- In Georgia, 30 counties are under a state of emergency. Gov. Nathan Deal has ordered mandatory evacuations in six coastal counties and in all areas east of Interstate 95. The Atlanta Motor Speedway is offering free camping for Irma evacuees. It may become a necessary refuge, given that some Georgia hotels are already booked as Floridians make their way north. Emergency shelter information is available here. There’s also a Georgia evacuation site for horses at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry.