As Hurricane Irma made its slow but steady way toward South Florida on Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced he was holding off a little longer on issuing evacuation orders for low-lying areas in Miami-Dade County.
But in the bustling Brickell neighborhood of downtown Miami, some residents said they weren’t waiting for the official mandate — and were already making plans to skip town.
Brickell Key residents Anna Hollberg and Kajsa Guner, friends out with their toddlers in strollers at midday Wednesday, are fleeing to different destinations.
Hollberg is flying to Texas with her family. Because their condo doesn’t have shutters, Hollberg says she will stuff their valuable possessions in the bathrooms and hope for the best.
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“That’s what we could find, so that’s where we’re going,” Hollberg said.
Guner is flying to Toronto to stay with family.
The two friends said most of their neighbors were debating what to do, but most will probably leave if ordered to, they said.
This should provide some relief to officials worried about the impact a storm as powerful as Irma on the largely-untested condo canyons of Brickell, where most of the residences were built after 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. On Tuesday, the City of Miami building department announced it could not guarantee the giant cranes at various construction sites in the area could withstand the force of a Category 5 hurricane such as Irma.
According to the Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the median age of Brickell residents is 34 — which means many of them have never weathered a hurricane as adults.
“I'm really worried about our residents,” said Alyce Robertson, executive director of the DDA. “We have a younger demographic and our last major hurricane season was in 2005, which means their parents would have done their worrying for them. Many of them weren’t even in South Florida then. They don’t know what the fury of a hurricane is like, and this is a monster storm.”
At a nearby CVS Store on Brickell Avenue, Jim Sheridan, who lives by himself in the adjacent Conrad Miami tower, said he wasn’t taking any chances. If there is a mandatory evacuation, he’s going. In fact, he said, we would probably go anyway. His plan: to start driving north out of Florida.
He was buying ice to pack a chest with food and drink.
“I’m all packed. I know how devastating a [Category] 5 storm can be. This one I’m not fooling around with,” Sheridan said.
Many of his neighbors were also debating what do to, he said. Some had already left for New York and places north. Others said they would stay and ride out the storm in the Conrad, confident the tower would stand up to the hurricane’s winds. But Sheridan said he did not want to risk staying around without power.
Lucy Martinez lives alone in a Brickell Bay Condo. The building managers were putting up shutters, but she was getting ready to drive to her son’s home in Coral Gables.
“And now I’m going to go pray to St. Jude (Judas),” patron saint of lost causes, she said.
Nearly 90,000 people live in the Greater Downtown Miami area, a four-mile area comprised of several neighborhoods including Midtown, Wynwood, Edgewater, Overtown and the Central Business District.
But none is more popular — or populous — than Brickell, the live-work-play stretch of apartment building canyons, office towers, shops and restaurants where the population has nearly tripled since 2000, from 12,904 to 34,975 in 2016.