Ricardo Arlain finally found an open shelter Saturday morning and was settling in at Killian High School, but his quest for a safe place to ride out Hurricane Irma began at 2 p.m. Friday, a quest that he said involved confusing and incorrect information that even temporarily sent him into a flood zone, rather than the higher ground he was seeking.
After waiting and then being turned away at two shelters because they weren’t open yet earlier in the day, the 73-year-old said he was sent to a shelter at Southridge High School, and settled in there with hundreds of other Miami-Dade residents for the evening. But about 10 or 10:30 p.m., police told them that they were being transferred by buses to a shelter in Doral because the authorities had discovered the building they were in was in a flood zone.
“We were all trying to get out of the flood zone, and they had sent people into the flood zone,” he said in a telephone interview.
Arlain tried to follow the bus in his car, which was running low on gas, but lost the bus and decided to return home at 11:30 p.m. to his single-family home in South Miami-Dade in order to resume his quest the next morning. He called 311, Miami-Dade County’s information line, and the operator suggested two shelters for him to try in the morning, one being Killian, where he safety found shelter.
“It should not have been so confusing,” said Arlain, who lives alone since his wife died a few years ago. “I know we don’t get hurricanes every day, but people should have working on this and getting their information straight.”
Arlain’s shelter ordeal underscored the confusion that was evident Friday and into the morning on Saturday after the county discovered it didn’t have enough shelters to accommodate the demand and announced two dozen new shelters Friday amid an unprecedented evacuation order targeting more than 600,000 people. Late friday, Miami-Dade rushed police to understaffed storm shelters, following a hectic day of shelters stopping people at the door because they were full or not ready to open yet. “There were some glitches,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “We’re human, and sometimes we make mistakes. But we’re going to learn from these mistakes.”
As of 5 p.m Saturday, Miami-Dade County has more residents in hurricane shelters than at any time in its storm-ravaged history. Approximately 29,000 people had taken refuge in the county-run shelters, along with about 1,000 pets, communications director Michael Hernández said. There were 42 shelters open, and 16 were reported as full.
At least 2,500 people were packed into South Dade Middle School on Saturday. The school-turned-shelter was already over capacity Friday night, but that didn't stop nearby residents from trying, in vain, to come in Saturday morning. National Guard members and Miami-Dade police had to turn people away at the gates.
Families lined the school hallways, some resting on blankets and pillows, a lucky few stretched out on air mattresses. In one of the classrooms, a young man had set up a flat screen TV and was leaning back in what appeared to be a reclining portable chair.
The rest of the evacuees were packed in tightly, with little space between blankets. A few families marked off areas using rolling cafeteria benches. Coolers, stacks of paper plates and a few stray pairs of shoes dotted a sea of blankets and anxious faces. Young children crowded around laptops, watching cartoons, or played games on their parents' cellphones.
Meanwhile, with time winding down to clear out before strong winds arrive in Miami, Miami-Dade continued to add shelter spaces for people who wouldn't leave home without their animals. Shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday, Miami-Dade posted news that a Miami Lakes shelter that previously wasn't accepting pets would begin accepting dogs, cats and caged critters.
The Miami Lakes Educational Center and Technical College (5780 NW 158th Street, Miami Lakes) is now open for both people and people with animals, according to the county's list of its 41 storm shelters.
Earlier Saturday, Miami-Dade had briefly announced it no longer had room in shelters for pets. Then that shifted into a novel offer: people seeking shelter could drop off their pets at Highland Oaks Middle School in a crate or cage with food, but the owners themselves would need to seek refuge elsewhere.
In Broward County, all 21 shelters are at capacity, said Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief at the county’s 3 p.m. conference.
Miami Herald staff writers Kyra Gurney, Elizabeth Koh and Doug Hanks contributed to this report, which has been updated.