Miami-Dade orders coastal evacuation as Hurricane Irma threatens

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez holds a Hurricane Irma briefing Wednesday morning in Doral.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez holds a Hurricane Irma briefing Wednesday morning in Doral.


More than 100,000 Miami-Dade residents were instructed to leave their homes on barrier islands, including Miami Beach, and in low-lying mainland areas starting Thursday morning in preparation for Hurricane Irma, as Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued his first evacuation orders for one of the worst storms to ever face Miami.

“Irma remains a strong Category 5 hurricane,” Gimenez said at a 7 p.m. news briefing in the county’s emergency center in Doral. “Significant weakening is not expected.”

His order, which takes effect at 7 a.m. Thursday, covered all of the “A” evacuation zone as well the portion of “B” that covers barrier islands between Biscayne Bay and the ocean. Those include Miami Beach, as well as Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, Golden Beach, Indian Creek Village, North Bay Village, Sunny Isles Beach and Surfside. Key Biscayne and Virginia Key sit in the A zone and are covered by the order. Gimenez also ordered residents of mobile homes across the county to evacuate as well. In all, about 150,000 people are covered by the order.

Gimenez’s office also announced the opening of four hurricane shelters Wednesday afternoon, with four more — which the county did not identify — opening Thursday morning.

The evacuation orders are the largest since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and came as Miami-Dade was the regional holdout in not instructing at least some residents to flee in advance of the storm. Broward issued its evacuation orders for coastal areas on Wednesday morning and said 14 shelters would be opening. On Tuesday, Monroe County ordered residents and tourists to begin leaving Wednesday.

As Gimenez resisted ordering the evacuations, both Miami Beach and Miami urged its residents in vulnerable areas to leave anyway. And while earlier in the week he said evacuation orders were probably coming for the A and B zones, his order was more limited, sparing Miami’s Brickell Avenue and other mainland areas within B. The zones, available here, track storm surge projections, and the evacuation orders reflect concerns of dangerous flooding in the areas.

The limited order could give Miami-Dade a chance to lessen the gridlock that comes with a larger exodus as block-long gas lines and mobbed sandbag giveaways clogged traffic throughout the county. Gimenez said anyone interested in leaving Miami-Dade altogether should do so quickly. “If you do it later, you may be caught in a flood of traffic trying to leave the area,” he said. “You may find yourself in a car during a hurricane, which is not the best place to be.”

While often described as “mandatory,” the orders carry no punishment for people who choose to remain in evacuation zones. But emergency officials said the areas are picked because they’re most vulnerable to the severe flooding that comes with a major hurricane, and could leave residents stranded during Irma. Should there be an emergency during the storm, flood waters could prevent fire and police from reaching victims who remain the zones.

Miami-Dade’s evacuation zone could grow as Irma moves closer to Miami. Extending evacuation orders to all of B would bring the residents affected to more than 400,000 people, according to county statistics.

Gimenez waited until two hours after the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. Irma advisory to issue the orders. Earlier in the day, he’d held off on them, noting that the storm had slowed down and given forecasters a little more time to figure out where Irma might land.

The evacuation zones in A trace all of the coastline in southern Dade, stopping in the Coral Gables area. and then jumps to the area surrounding Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus. Also in A: all of Key Biscayne and Miami’s Virginia Key. The barrier islands of B include some of the most exclusive real estate in Florida, as well Miami-Dade’s most popular tourist destination: South Beach.

Miami-Dade urged residents in evacuation zones to find shelter with friends or family, with shelters described as available if needed. The four opened Wednesday can hold about 8,000 people, and Miami-Dade said it would announce the other four on Thursday.

The shelters opened Wednesday are:

  • North Miami Beach Senior High, 1247 NW 167th St., North Miami Beach
  • South Miami Senior High, 6856 SW 53rd St., South Miami
  • Felix Varela Senior High, 15255 SW 96th St., Miami (in the West Kendall area)
  • A fourth will accept pets: the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exhibition, home to the Youth Fair at Tamiami Park, 10901 Coral Way, Miami. Dogs and cats are allowed in, as is any pet in a cage.

The opening of the shelters come amid heightened concerns for undocumented immigrants in Miami-Dade. The county and Gimenez have been praised by the Trump administration for its decision to cooperate with federal detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement at county jails for people booked on local charges while being sought for deportation.

“We’ve been hearing some rumors from some immigrants that they are afraid if they show up at a shelter, that there may be ICE agents,” Gimenez said at the press conference. “That could not be farther from the truth. we don’t ask anybody for their identification. Everyone who needs shelter in Miami-Dade is welcome. You should do without any fear or repercussions.”

An earlier version of this story mistakenly listed Biscayne Park as being included in Miami-Dade’s evacuation order. That was initially announced in error. This story was also updated to correct the time when the evacuation order goes into effect.