For an entire generation in South Florida, Hurricane Andrew was the monster storm that reshaped a region. Irma is likely to blow that out of the water.
The Governor said the entire state should be ready to evacuate, “All 20 million people.”
Bigger and with a 90-degree different path of potential destruction, Irma is forecast to hit lots more people and buildings than 1992′s Andrew, said experts, including veterans of Andrew. At the time Andrew was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history with damages of $26.5 billion in 1992 dollars (about $50 billion in current dollars), according to the National Weather Service.
“The effect of Irma on the state of Florida is going to be much greater than Andrew’s effect,” said Weather Channel senior hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross, who was a local television meteorologist hailed as a hero during Andrew. “We’re dealing with an entirely different level of phenomenon. There is no storm to compare with this. Unless you go way back to 1926.”
Kate Hale, Miami-Dade’s emergency management chief — who grabbed national attention during Andrew by beseeching “where the hell is the cavalry on this one?” — said by nearly every measure Irma looks far worse.
“Nobody can make this up. This storm. This track at this point,” Hale told The Associated Press on Thursday. Between Hurricane Harvey’s record weeklong flooding, devastating Western wildfires and Irma, which was nearing record-levels for the longest time at Category 5 strength, she called the effects on the national economy “potentially staggering.”
One of the plants, St. Lucie, is on Hutchinson Island, about 55 miles (88km) north of West Palm Beach. Its two reactors generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 1 million homes.
Turkey Point nuclear power station is located on the Biscayne Bay, about 24 miles from Miami. Its two reactors generate about 1,600 megawatts of electricity, or enough for about 900,000 homes.
“It is about a thirty-hour process, as soon as the Category 1 winds start,” Scott said. “We have evacuation routes opened for people to get out and get back to them. But they will be completely shut down before the storm hits. They will not be re-open until afterwards.”
— Mitchell Gordon (@ImGoing2EatYou2) September 7, 2017
— Andrea Butera (@AndreaButera) September 8, 2017
Georgia’s governor on Thursday ordered nearly 540,000 coastal residents to evacuate inland ahead of Hurricane Irma as authorities warned the storm had the potential to strike as a major hurricane, something the Georgia coast hasn’t seen in more than a century.
“If there’s a freight train coming at you, then you get off the tracks,” said Jason Buelterman, mayor of Tybee Island, a beach community of more than 3,000 residents east of Savannah.
Gov. Nathan Deal ordered all six Georgia coastal counties to start evacuating at 8 a.m. Saturday. That’s when officials planned to turn all lanes of Interstate 16 into a one-way route inland, sending traffic west from Savannah. However, some local governments urged people to leave as soon as possible Friday.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from across southern Florida, with Irma expected to make landfall on Saturday. Authorities have urged those in mandatory evacuation areas in the Florida Keys and parts of Miami to find safety before the hurricane—one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin—makes rescue efforts impossible.
— Jacquie Stafford (@Jacquiestaffnut) September 8, 2017
Despite the dire warnings, many followers of the conservative Orthodox Jewish faith in Miami intend to stay where they are, the Times of Israel reported. Rabbi Chaim Lipskar of the Chabad Downtown Center in Miami said roughly half of his community intends to remain.
He and his five children will be staying in the center to celebrate the Sabbath, even though it is situated just two blocks from the water and prone to flooding.
11 P.M. Track is in… not good for Orlando. pic.twitter.com/jIHT5AEd8o
— Tom Sorrells (@tomsorrells) September 8, 2017
Hurricane Irma tightened her grip on South Florida early Friday, becoming overnight what everyone has long dreaded: a monster hurricane bearing down on Miami and a coast with 6 million people.
Reliable forecast models projecting the storm’s path predictably began to agree on a final, fateful track, with a direct hit along the south coast Sunday after crossing the middle Keys, although any wobble at this point could still change the storm’s course.
By late Saturday, the storm should begin making a critical turn to the north. But the turn will likely be too late to spare Florida from punishing hurricane winds that extend 70 miles from Irma’s center.
Because Irma is moving south to north, the storm will likely make a “protracted slog” across South Florida, with hurricane-force winds lasting up to 12 hours, Brennan said. The hurricane should begin weakening quickly once it crosses land, although its sheer size will mean damaging winds will still be far-reaching.
The storm’s eye also widened Friday to more than 45 miles across as it underwent an eyewall replacement. Such restructuring in fierce storms is common and can weaken the hurricane initially before recharging. In Irma’s case, the storm has rekindled with each replacement, and gotten wider. An eye expanding so much — the eye had been about half the size Thursday — usually signals a new eye forming that will tighten and shrink as the hurricane spins forward.
Because a hurricane’s most catastrophic winds blow near the eye, where it tracks matters. Miami-Dade and the east coast remain on the storm’s dirty, stronger side.
The U.S. Virgin Islands lost its 911 call lines. The small island of Barbuda reported damage to 95 percent of the island, including its hospital and airport. At least 11 deaths so far have been blamed on the storm, with dozens more injured. The number of deaths is likely to climb.
On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott also ordered the evacuations of seven cities just south of Lake Okeechobee over concerns that the lake’s 1930’s era dike might fail. Evacuations also spread across 15 other counties, including parts of Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Collier and Pinellas counties.
The South Florida coast and Keys are also under a storm surge warning, with surge levels projected to reach between five and 10 feet on the east coast and six to 12 feet from Cape Sable to Captiva.
“It could be as high as your head, or twice that high,” Brennan said. “That’s life-threatening.”
Because Biscayne Bay is so shallow, wind can easily pick up and move water, he said.
“You’re going to have water blowing up Biscayne bay. The bay responds fast. It’s shallow. So, the bay’s going to respond very quickly to that wind,” he said.
And places in the Keys may get slammed by a double whammy of storm surge.
“The Keys could get storm surge from both sides,” Brennan said. “You can get almost two separate rounds.”
While Governor Rick Scott said Florida’s two nuclear power plants will be shut down before Hurricane Irma hits, little has been said about over a dozen chemical plants around the state, many of which manufacture highly combustible fertilizer.
“I have been talking to Florida Power & Light, which owns these,” Scott told CNN on Thursday, when asked about the power plants, “and they will both be shut down.”