For the first time since it opened two years ago, the Port Miami Tunnel plans to close its watertight gates Wednesday afternoon as a precaution against a tidal flood from Hurricane Matthew.
The planned closure of the new underwater link between the MacArthur Causeway and Port Miami may be the most dramatic step yet for a county government preparing for a glancing blow from a fierce storm expected to directly threaten Florida cities north of the Miami area. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Wednesday that local officials aren’t planning any coastal evacuations, which are required for severe threats of tidal surge.
“We have no evacuation orders for anywhere because evacuation orders are issued when we expect storm surges. And we don’t expect a major storm surge here in Miami-Dade County,” he said during a press conference at the county’s emergency-operations center in Doral. “At this point, they expect basically a king tide, maybe, in Miami Beach. And that’s the extent of it… We expect Miami Beach will be able to weather this fairly well. That’s all dependent on the forecast being accurate and the storm actually going to the north and east of us.”
Gimenez said the county still expects to face tropical-storm winds, and not the force of a hurricane. He said the only residents being asked to move are those who depend on electricity for medical devices. About 200 of those residents are being moved to area hospitals.
With motorists eager to top off their tanks before Matthew threatens power supplies (and with them, the ability of many gas stations to operate their pumps), Gimenez said the county is receiving scattered reports of price gouging. He encouraged anyone seeing unusually high gas prices to contact the county’s help line by dialing 311.
He also said drawbridges in Miami-Dade will close to boat traffic at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Three cruise ships scheduled to dock in Port Miami on Thursday are moving their dockage times to Friday, when Matthew is expected to be cleared out of the area.
The Port Miami Tunnel closing is being viewed as a extreme precaution, given the significant damage caused by the sea flooding inside. “You don’t want water damaging the electrical equipment,” said Alice Bravo, Miami-Dade’s transportation director. “And if there’s a surge, it brings sand with it. You don’t want the tunnel filling with sand.”
This is the first major storm to threaten Miami since the tunnel opened in 2014.
Along with the tunnel closure, Wednesday will bring a string of changes by Miami-Dade’s government in advance of Matthew. Gimenez said sanitation crews will pick up bulk waste on Wednesday to clear roadsides of debris. The regular Thursday pick-up may continue, but only if the weather allows.
The county’s public-transportation system may close Thursday. It shuts down when sustained winds hit tropical-storm strength — 39 mph or above — and that’s expected to happen either Thursday morning or afternoon in the Miami area.