Miami-Dade County launched the largest evacuation in its history this week, and quickly ran into logistical problems as a flood of evacuees from Hurricane Irma rapidly filled shelters on Friday — leaving many people standing outside unopened buildings and others told to go elsewhere.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who began evacuation orders on Thursday, acknowledged some glitches in the process of opening safe spaces for a mass exodus from the coast.
“Opening a shelter is not as easy as people think,” Gimenez said during a noon Friday conference at the county’s Emergency Operations Center in Doral.
At some locations, no one from the county government or the Red Cross was on site to register evacuees at the declared opening time, said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Instead, school principals and other schools personnel, who arrived at 8 a.m. Friday, have had to contend with long lines of evacuees, Carvalho said.
“Our people are there on site, ready,” said Carvalho, who visited several shelters on Friday. “I cannot underscore enough the need for a faster deployment of the management entities to the shelters after the opening time is declared.”
But officials delivered mixed messages.
For instance, Gimenez cited a lack of Red Cross volunteers in the race to open more shelters to keep pace with demand from an unprecedented evacuation order affecting more than 600,000 residents.
“We have run out of Red Cross volunteers,” Gimenez said. “So now we are going to be utilizing the National Guard in the additional shelters.”
But Roberto Baltodano, regional communications for the American Red Cross in Miami, said the charity had not run out of volunteers for staffing the shelters.
“We do have enough volunteers today,” he said. “We’re working in close coordination with the mayor to open more shelters.”
At Ronald Reagan Senior High School in Doral, a line of 40 to 50 people waited to enter the designated shelter. Parents with young children and an expectant mother were among those standing outside with their belongings in suitcases and plastic bags. One family brought a mattress.
Shortly after noon on Friday, Miami-Dade said it planned to open 42 shelters for Irma. But by 5:30 p.m., only 21 had been announced. At least six of those were turning people away, though it took at least an hour for Miami-Dade to confirm that Robert Morgan Senior High School was at capacity. The information had already been confirmed by the county's school superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, and Dennis Moss, the county commissioner from South Dade.
“People are coming in droves,” Moss said from South Dade High, where people seeking shelter at Robert Morgan had already been sent by county buses at the time. “I think it’s going to fill up.”
Albert Moscoso, spokesperson for the Florida Emergency Operations Center, said the Red Cross is in charge of deciding when to open a shelter and they will not open one “unless they have sufficient staff in place.”
But Carvalho said he had made the executive decision to allow evacuees to enter school sites at the declared opening time even if county officials had not yet arrived, and that he would continue to do so.
“It’s not fair to have individuals in this oppressive heat out there on the street,” he said.
At some shelters, tourists were being bused in from Miami Beach hotels, or taking taxis directly from the airport or Port Miami, Carvalho said.
“I’ve walked into schools where you had entire classrooms transformed into a refuge for tourists who were brought from Miami Beach by their hotels with scant information provided to them,” he said.
The school district was awaiting a county decision Friday afternoon on whether to open additional shelters, including one or two more that could serve as pet shelters. The number of schools-turned-shelters could reach as many as 36 before the storm hits, Carvalho said.
At the shelters that have already reached capacity, new arrivals are being transported to other schools with space available, Carvalho said. The school district said there was no shortage of food and that the shelters were staffed with schools cafeteria personnel, police and custodians, in addition to school administrators.
Speaking early on Friday, Gimenez said the county has never before undertaken such a massive effort, racing to open the doors to at least 40 hurricane shelters for as many as 100,000 people.
“This is an unprecedented event,” he said. “We are now rewriting the book as we go.”
Miami Herald staff writer Sydney Pereira contributed to this report.
▪ Pet-Friendly Center, E. Darwin Fuchs Pavilion at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exhibition, at Tamiami Park, 10901 Coral Way, Miami. 33165 (full)
▪ Miami Carol City Senior, 3301 Miami Gardens Dr., Miami Gardens
▪ Miami Central Senior, 1781 NW 95th St., Miami
▪ North Miami Senior, 13110 NE Eighth Ave., North Miami (full)
▪ TERRA Environmental, 11005 SW 84th St., Miami (full)
▪ North Miami Beach Senior, 1247 NE 167th St., North Miami Beach
▪ South Miami Senior, 6856 SW 53th St., South Miami (full)
▪ Felix Varela Senior, 15255 SW 96th St., West Kendall (full)
▪ Hialeah Gardens Senior, 11700 Hialeah Gardens Blvd., Hialeah Gardens
▪ Barbara Goleman Senior, 14100 NW 89th Ave., Miami Lakes
▪ Pet-Friendly Center, Highland Oaks Middle, 2375 NE 203rd St., North Miami
▪ Ronald Reagan Senior, 8600 NW 107th Ave., Doral
▪ Country Club Middle, 18305 NW 75th Pl., Miami
▪ W.R. Thomas Middle, 13001 SW 26th St., Miami
▪ Robert Morgan Senior, 18180 SW 122nd Ave., Miami
▪ South Dade Senior, 28401 SW 167th Ave., Homestead
▪ Coral Park Senior, 8865 SW 16th St., Miami
▪ Lakes Stevens Middle, 18484 NW 48th Pl., Miami Gardens
▪ American Senior High, 18350 NW 67th Ave., Hialeah
▪ Hammocks Middle, 9889 Hammocks Blvd., Miami