Dubbed by the National Hurricane Center as the strongest Atlantic basin hurricane ever recorded, Hurricane Irma tore through the northeast Caribbean on Wednesday with wind speeds up to 185 mph and is now continuing on its western path.
Direct hits were made on Barbuda, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, while the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico received the edge of Irma, experiencing torrential rain and strong winds.
Irma’s death toll has risen to 23 with the number expected to increase as the hurricane continues on.
Hurricane Irma’s initial strike came only two days after Hurricane Harvey caused record flooding in Texas. Trailing behind Irma is Hurricane Jose and Tropical Storm Katia, two other storms that formed in the Atlantic basin.
Irma’s path continued onto Cuba’s northern coast, dropping to wind speeds of 130 mph. According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Irma is expected to regain strength as it makes its way towards Florida. Irma’s eye is expected to hit the Florida Keys, resulting in the ordered evacuation of 5.6 million Floridians. Other parts of Florida with mandatory evacuations include Miami-Dade County, Broward County east of US Route 1, Palm Beach County and Brevard County.
The mass exodus of people has caused bumper to bumper traffic for countless miles as individuals and families try to get out of Irma’s path. The Florida Department of Transportation reported extremely heavy traffic numbers: 4,000 vehicles traveled on 1-74 Northbound in Lake City on Saturday, compared to the average of 1,000.
“What should have been another six or seven-hour travel experience is coming up on 12 hours,” said Rosanne Lesack, a woman evacuating from Boca Raton with her family, in an interview with CNN. “It has been slow. Right now we’re going about 20 mph…it’s just three lanes of red bumper lights.”
Fuel availability has also been a big problem with the evacuation process. Florida’s Governor Rick Scott has taken steps to get more gas delivered after countless gas stations had to shut down their pumps.
In news release, Governor Scott stated that contractors have organized 1.5 million gallons to be delivered; the fuel will be escorted by state police to the gas stations located on evacuation routes. He also announced that all road tolls have been suspended until further notice.
Though roughly one third of Florida’s population has evacuated, 14 million other Floridians are bracing for the hurricane. Power outages are already occurring with nearly 45,000 of 2 million Florida Power and Light customers out of power in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to the utility company’s website. The number is only expected to increase.
Governor Scott stressed the dangers of Irma, stating in an interview with ABC News, “this is a life-threatening situation. Our state has never seen anything like it.”
Over 55,000 Floridians have moved into shelters according to Governor Scott. More shelters are attempting to open to protect as many Floridians as possible. Irma is being monitored closely but for the time being, the state of Florida is huddled down in expectancy of unfathomable damage.