As Hurricane Irma churns freakishly close to Florida, an estimated 650,000 Miami-Dade residents are now a part of Mayor Carlos Gimenez's mandatory evacuation order. On barrier islands like Miami Beach, officials were warning people to get out of Dodge as early as Wednesday. But even now — as a Cat 5 monster closes in on the island — some people have chosen to stay put.
On Thursday evening the streets of South Beach were quieter than normal, though there were still people out and about on the hunt for groceries, gas, and booze. Outside the Flamingo towers, a handful of residents packed up their cars to head out of town, while others carried supplies back to their apartments to hunker down for the weekend. Richard Anderson, who lives there, walked around to see if any gas stations had gas. Although he’d originally considered evacuating, he said he and a few friends were sticking around to ride out the storm, planning to duck into the hallway or stairwell if things got bad.
“We looked at driving up to Georgia, but it was something like 40 hours driving time with the traffic, so we’re not gonna do that,” Anderson said.
As a Florida native originally from Naples, he said he had mixed feelings about weathering the storm.
“It is a Cat 5, so yeah, it’s worrying,” he said. “It’s a newer building, all impact glass, so I’m happy about that.”
Over on West Avenue, Wellington Mota said he’d already moved his car to the third story of a nearby garage but planned to stay in his apartment at Southgate Towers. To him, the difference between being somewhere in inland Miami versus his sturdy building in Miami Beach was negligible at this point.
“Out there, it’s a lot of cardboard and wood that flies faster than concrete,” he said.
Mota said he’d been through a number of hurricanes, starting with Hurricane David in the Dominican Republic in 1979 up to Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2012.
“You just look around and you take the precautions you need to,” he said.
While some people were staying out of choice, others were staying out of necessity. A woman who gave her name only as Ortal said she was visiting from Israel and planned to stay at her friend’s apartment for the duration of the hurricane.
“We’re leaving in a week and there’s no other place for us to go,” she said.
Sitting atop a Miami New Times stand outside the Waverly condo building, a woman who identified herself as Damien said she lived in a small apartment building near Fifth Street and was waiting to hear back from a friend in Brickell about crashing there for the weekend.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do," she said nervously. "I tried going to a shelter last time and they denied me."
As of today, there's still plenty of time for residents in Miami Beach and elsewhere to get out, although the window of opportunity is closing.
If you're stuck in town without a way to evacuate, the state has set up a transportation hotline at 1-800-955-5504 to help get you to safety. Gov. Rick Scott has promised, "We will get you out."