As the threat of Hurricane Irma draws closer to Florida’s shores, Gov. Rick Scott said he is activating another 900 members of the Florida Air and Army National Guard Wednesday to prepare for the Category 5 storm, in addition to the 100 members activated Tuesday across the state.
All 7,000 members will report for duty Thursday morning, though Scott said he is willing to activate additional National Guard members throughout the week “as needed.”
Speaking at a hurricane briefing in Marathon, Scott said the state was preparing for a storm that could have surges bigger than Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and urged those in coastal areas to obey all evacuation orders swiftly.
“I cannot stress this enough,” he said. “Do not ignore evacuation orders. Remember, we can rebuild your home but we cannot rebuild your life.”
Scott reviewed several actions that have been taken in the last few days, including issuing mandatory evacuation orders for the Keys for visitors beginning Wednesday morning and for residents starting Wednesday night. Members of the North Carolina National Guard are helping evacuate Keys hospitals ahead of the storm, Scott said.
The Florida Department of Transportation suspended tolls Tuesday for those evacuating areas of the state until further notice. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also releasing water from Lake Okeechobee ahead of the up to 20 inches of rain Irma is expected to bring.
Scott called for people to report gas outages to the state as they continue to prepare for the storm and keep their tanks full. He also asked people to volunteer to help with shelters and food distribution. Signups can be found at www.volunteerflorida.org.
“That’s what our biggest need is right now,” he said.