Gov. Rick Scott told South Floridians who’ve been ordered to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma that they need to leave and find shelter now.
“Not tonight. Not in an hour. Now,” Scott said Friday evening at the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee.
In South Florida, evacuation orders have so far been issued in all of Monroe County and parts of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Those areas will begin feeling Irma’s winds and waters on Saturday. Across Florida, 5.6 million people have been ordered to evacuate, according to Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manger.
“We are less than 24 hours away from the lower half of our state experiencing Category 4 winds,” the governor said. “The lower half of our state will be in danger of a life-threatening storm surge.”
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Those floods could reach heights between six and 12 feet on Florida’s west coast, “enough to cover your house,” Scott said.
Residents of central Florida need to be on the road by midnight, he added. After that, they should not drive.
“It will not be safe for you or law enforcement to rescue you.”
Close to the vest
Despite Scott’s regular briefings and television appearances, the state has kept a tight grip over information on evacuation routes, shelters, traffic issues and resources. Emergency officials have refused to confirm or release any information unless it first came through the governor or his staff.
By keeping the governor, who is eying a run for U.S. Senate, the focal point of the information stream, the state waited more than 12 hours to officially notify the public that drivers along I-75 were allowed to drive on the paved shoulder from Wildwood to the Georgia line.
He did not explain that decision Friday.
“Everybody on the road knew when we opened the shoulders,” said Scott, who urged motorists to visit highway website fl511.com. “If you’re on the highway, you know when the shoulders are open.”
The governor also did not answer questions about why some shelters in Miami-Dade County had not yet opened or why the direction of highway lanes had not yet been changed to accommodate the crush of traffic heading north.
Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Emergency Operations Center, said it is the counties’ role to open shelters, even if they are not yet stocked with supplies.
“The vital thing is [evacuees] are in a hardened storm shelter and they will live,” Koon said. “By having the shelters open, they are given the motivation to leave and be safe.”