Hurricane

When the storm is as big as Florida, where can you evacuate to?

Beatriz Bustamante and her dog Simon wait as Qawrence Symonette secures sheets of plywood on her car at The Home Depot store in North Miami, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. Florida residents are preparing for the possible landfall of Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history.
Beatriz Bustamante and her dog Simon wait as Qawrence Symonette secures sheets of plywood on her car at The Home Depot store in North Miami, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. Florida residents are preparing for the possible landfall of Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history. AP

With Miami-Dade expected to order evacuations in coastal areas later Wednesday due to Hurricane Irma, many are facing a critical question: Where do I go?

“Where do we go? Only 2 rds out: 1-95 & Fla turnpike. Andrew’s damage was due to lax building codes. Dwellings built CBS code will hold,” Twitter user Florida Pearl posted on Wednesday morning.

As of Wednesday morning, the storm is projected to hit Florida by Sunday. But with a storm of this magnitude — a Category 5 that measures 120 miles wide in a state that is 160 miles across — you don’t have many places to go in Florida.

More: Tips on evacuating and looking for shelter.

First figure out if you’re in an evacuation zone. Plug in your address or ZIP code into Miami-Dade’s flood zone maps.

If you must go here are your options:

Stay with friends or family who have sturdy and shuttered homes.

If that choice isn’t feasible, Miami-Dade will open a number of shelters as the storm approaches. Shelters are not expected to open before Thursday as Miami-Dade public schools, which often serve as shelters, are still open Wednesday.

Shortly after 8 AM ET Wednesday, NASA SPoRT tweeted "Saint-Martin and Anguilla appear to have taken a direct hit by cat 5 Hurricane #Irma." Hours before, video of Saint Martin showed water flowing through streets.

Or, consider driving out of state. Check hotel websites. Flights are hard to come by.

From a Hurricane Harvey survivor in Houston, a grandmother of five, the message is clear: “Pack your bags now.”

“Everybody is looking at Irma as a Cat 5 but there's so much uncertainty. It could go up to the East Coast, the West Coast or the Keys. Don’t focus on the track, or the skinny black line, focus on the impacts,” said Craig Fugate, former FEMA director and head of Florida’s emergency operations during the hurricane seasons of 2004-05.

“If you’ve got your plan, you’ve got the supplies, heed the evacuation and take your pets with you. Drive tens of miles away, not hundreds. And remember, more people worry about wind in South Florida than they do about water when water is the biggest killer — the storm surge and flooding. And Irma is a much bigger storm.”

Make sure to bring at least a week’s worth of medications, a change of clothes, and important documents in protective plastic bags.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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