After a fifth frenetic day crisscrossing the state attempting to brace the public for the unimaginable, Gov. Rick Scott conceded Saturday his greatest fear is that people won't heed his warnings.
“The thing that has caused me the biggest concern is I don’t think anybody has realized the impact of this storm surge,“ the governor said at a press conference at the state's Emergency Operations Center on the eve of Hurricane Irma's scheduled landfall.
He had recited the forecast: the core will move across the Keys early Saturday morning and go across our state on Sunday; it will impact Northwest Florida on Monday; the Keys will see direct impact of the eye of the storm; 8 to 15 inches of rain will douse the entire state, with up to 25 inches in the Keys; the west coast will see storm surge of up to 15 feet beginning Sunday; Tampa will see a surge of 5 to 8 feet and the Big Bend area will see a surge of 3 to 6 feet.
“My hometown, Naples, 15 feet above ground level — how do you survive that?'' Scott asked.
Scott evacuated his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and four grandsons to the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee on Friday after forecasts had the most severe projections of the menacing floods moving into the heart of Naples, where he owns a beachfront mansion.
As the governor stood surrounded by members of the Florida National Guard, he warned that millions in Florida were already experiencing the tropical storm winds, tornadoes are possible in South Florida Saturday night and in Central Florida on Sunday, and 15 inches of rain will deluge most of the state.
“Hurricane Irma is already impacting Florida and the heart of this storm is quickly approaching us,'' he said. At least 76,000 people were without power Saturday night, an estimated 6.5 million were under evacuation warnings and more than 390 shelters had been opened throughout the state.
He noted that the center of the storm is getting better organized and “will re-intensify as it approaches Florida.”
Irma will make its first projected landfall in Florida early Sunday morning in the Keys, dumping as much as 15 inches of rain and dousing the battered islands with another 15 feet of storm surge.
The storm will then move across the state throughout the day on Sunday, hitting northwest Florida on Monday.
Scott said Saturday that when the forecast revised the track of the storm west on Friday, and increased projections of storm surge, it took many people by surprise.
“I don't think anybody alive today has ever seen anything like this.”
He repeated his plea urging people to evacuate.
“Millions of Floridians will begin seeing impacts with life threatening winds tonight,'' he said. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, you need to leave right now. This is your last chance to make a decision.”
State officials report that evacuation routes are moving and the state is allowing drivers to travel on the shoulders on Interstate 4 from 50th Street in Tampa to east of State Road 429 in Orlando. An estimated 1,700 state troopers remain on the road to assist in evacuations and traffic.
People can check real-time traffic information and evacuation routes at www.FL511.com.
Although fuel remains a concern, he said there are no reports of areas being completely without gas.
Scott said he remains concerned about the Keys, where stories of people riding the storm despite the punishing forecasts.
“Anywhere where you think somebody might be, you ought to call them and tell them how important they are to you.”
He recalled a woman during Hurricane Hermine last year, who stayed in her home south of Tallahassee because of her pets as six feet of storm surge approached. When the water level got to three feet in her older house, she realized she was not going to survive, he said.
“She got out of her house and there was a high water vehicle — and it was the last vehicle leaving,'' Scott recalled. “If it hadn't, she would have passed away.”
“If you listen to her story, she talked about how fast the water moved in, and how fast the water moved out. There would have been no way for her to survive. You have to think about, how can anybody survive this stuff... I care about everybody in my state and I just want everybody to live.”