As Hurricane Irma spins into South Florida on Saturday and Sunday, New Times staff are scattered across Dade and Broward counties to document the huge storm's impact on the region. We'll update this post all weekend long with the latest on the ground in the path of the biggest Atlantic hurricane on record.
6 p.m. The worst of Irma's "dirty side" winds may have passed South Florida by now, but dangerous tropical storm conditions are going to continue raking the area for the rest of Sunday and overnight into Monday. Most curfews have extended into Monday morning and authorities are urging Miamians not to venture out even though hurricane-force winds have mostly left the area:
Reporters who have ventured out report widespread tree damage and largely impassable roads all over town:
4:15 p.m. Dan Scavino, President Donald Trump's director of social media, fell for a fake-ass video of flooding at Miami International Airport — and MIA called him out for it on Twitter.
The video, which shows a swamped runway and ground marshalers in tall boots, has been widely shared on social media. But it should have been obvious that the video was fake. MIA has been closed since yesterday. Why would airport personnel with lights be working on the runway in the middle of a hurricane?
4 p.m. Jorge Perez, chairman and CEO of the Related Group, had no idea that a crane had collapsed at one of his Miami projects until a New Times writer reached him on his cell phone. Perez is weathering the storm in New York at the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
A crane at his Gran Paraiso condo tower at 600 NE 30th Terrace toppled earlier this afternoon in Irma's winds. But Perez said he hadn't gotten word of the accident.
"I can't comment right now because this is the first I'm hearing of it," the mega-developer told New Times. "I'm going to call my people right away."
The crane toppled off the building early this afternoon, leaving it hanging by a thread. It's the second major crane collapse today after another on top of the Vice Miami condo tower in Brickell fell this morning.
Related Group is the largest developer in Miami and the billionaire Perez has his name affixed to Miami's Perez Art Museum.
Update 5:15 p.m. Perez called back with a full comment on the crane collapse, saying that the subcontractor on the project was "surprised" it feel because it had been specially secured before the storm. Here's his full comment:
“We had secured all the cranes. The subcontractor went through every one of the job sites we had and they’re all secured to withstand 135 mph winds. This particular crane, some of it was taken down. They were surprised that it went down because they felt it was one of the more secure cranes, so we’re right on it. Unfortunately because of the bad weather conditions they can’t send somebody there right now but immediately when they can they have a crew ready to go and get it resolved. There’s no damage, the buildings are under construction and nobody lives there, so thank goodness there’s nothing that’s happened to human life. We’re very lucky for that, and we’re going to be right on it as soon as weather permits.”
— Zachary Fagenson
3:30 p.m. Strong cells are moving from Key Biscayne into Downtown right now, and the National Weather Service has just issued a tornado warning covering most of the area :
Meanwhile, amazing video continues to be posted of damage from the winds and surge. An apartment building roof peeled off like a sardine can. The building is at NE 26th Street and Fifth Avenue, according to the Miami Herald's David Smiley.
3:10 p.m. Finally, some good news Miami: Notorious Nastie is back with another live hurricane report from Brickell. Warning: This man is a professional (ish). New Times does not endorse riding in storm surge on a small inflatable alligator.
2:50 p.m. A second construction crane has now collapsed under Irma's hurricane-force winds. According to NBC6's Michael Spears, the crane is at an unfinished condo project on NE 30th Terrace. Spears' video shows the crane precariously dangling off the building.
2:45 p.m. Brickell continues to get absolutely hammered by storm surge and wind. In this video, condo towers look to be rising straight out of a stormy ocean:
2:30 p.m. Early on Wednesday, Oscar Gonzalez and his fiance packed up their house in Broward County and made the drive to Tampa, hoping to escape the worst of Hurricane Irma. Thousands of other Miamians made similar decisions as they tried to weigh the best way to avoid a giant storm threatening the whole state. As they settled into an Airbnb, they felt sure they’d made the right choice: the Tampa area was free of the frenzy going on in Miami, with little traffic and no lines at the gas stations or grocery stores.
“We were like, ‘We made the best move. We got out of this thing,’” Gonzalez recalls.
Then came Friday night, when the National Weather Service’s bulletin indicated a stunning change. Irma was headed west, with Tampa poised to take a direct hit. Gonzalez and his fiance stopped playing cards to watch the news. “This thing all the sudden is going straight for Tampa,” Gonzalez says. “It was unbelievable.”
They made a quick decision — two days after fleeing South Florida, they make a frantic drive back.
The couple hurriedly packed up their things and left the Airbnb after midnight Saturday. After sipping a Five Hour Energy and driving through the night, Gonzalez pulled into their driveway around 4:30 a.m. They sank into bed, relieved to be home.
Gonzalez says the pair had no choice but to leave Tampa: their Airbnb had flimsy windows and no shutters. No one else had on their street had shutters either, except for a single mother they’d helped with the task earlier Friday.
“We just looked at each other like, ‘I don’t know if we can sit here in a Category 4,’” Gonzalez says. “That’s been the theme this whole trip, 'We gotta get out of here, we gotta go, we gotta get out of here.'”
— Brittany Shammas
2 p.m. Just before noon on Friday, Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas sailed out of the Port of Miami. Aboard the ship were passengers who couldn't go home after their Caribbean cruises, as well as Miami-based employees and their family and friends who came aboard Friday looking to evacuate the city. New Times web editor Jose Duran joined the exodus at sea.
By Saturday, the mood aboard changed when it became obvious southeast Florida would be spared the worst of Irma's fury, but everyone still keep checking their phones and calling their loved ones to get updates on how Miami was fairing. On board is the ship's meteorologist James Van Fleet who is keeping passengers updated on the TVs in the cabins, as well as making sure the vessel stays a stay distance from Irma.
Currently, Enchantment is anchored off the coast of the westernmost tip of Cuba waiting for the weather to clear to head back. Depending on where help is most needed, the ship may port in Key West or Fort Myers to deliver supplies. Another ship, Adventure of the Seas, is on its way to St. Maarten after changing its itinerary to deliver much-needed provisions.
— Jose Duran
1:45 p.m. Storm surge and flooding aren't limited to downtown. Videos from the 79th Street corridor show high water levels in Liberty City and near Biscayne Boulevard as well:
But the most dramatic water levels still seem to be near Brickell, where according to WSVN's Brian Etin, the surge is still rising and is now "neck deep" in places:
1:15 p.m. Facebook has set up a Hurricane Irma in Miami safety check feature if you want to let your social network know that you're safe. Miami-Dade Schools have now canceled all classes through Tuesday.
Hurricane-force winds are still battering South Florida as the dirty side of Irma sweeps across the region. Much of Miami is now without power, including most of downtown Miami, while hundreds of trees are down across roads, blocking access to many neighborhoods:
12:30 p.m. More details are in about the crane collapse downtown. The crane sat atop a new tower called, of course, Vice Miami. The 464-unit, "New York-style" condo tower is midway through a $110 million construction phase at 300 Biscayne Boulevard.
City officials are using social media and a phone system to alert nearby residents about the collapse. If they're in a nearby building, they should "stay in the building but away from any wall or window facing the crane," the city says in a release. OSHA will investigate why the crane collapsed, the city says.
Here's a good view of the crane earlier this week before the collapse:
If you've been wondering why the city doesn't demand tougher codes for huge cranes in a hurricane-prone city, the answer is Miami tried to do just that in 2010 — and developers sued to fight the move. Doug Hanks at the Herald has some details:
WSVN, meanwhile, has the craziest video yet of flooding in Brickell. Water looks to be waist-deep in places from a combination of storm surge and rain:
Noon Winds are spiking across Dade County, and are particularly noticeable in high rises downtown. New Times food critic Zachary Fagenson, who is riding out the storm on the 23rd story in a high rise just north of downtown says his building is noticeably swaying. "The wind going through my building literally sounds like someone blending margaritas all around me," he says. "There's a constant hissing and low grumbling against the impact windows ... Every so often, a gust enters an exterior duct, sending a loud roar like a blender through my walls and ceiling."
Others downtown echo that sentiment.
Storm surge is also visibly flooding Downtown and Brickell:
Right now, Irma remains a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds. The eye of the storm has now passed over Big Pine Key — tragically, the home of the National Key Deer Refuge, an important habitat for the threatened and extremely cute key deer — and is headed toward southwest Florida, where it will either hit or graze Naples and Fort Myers.
11:15 a.m. Here's a quick primer on how not to behave during a hurricane, via New Times art director Kristin Bjornson who filmed a man on his roof in Broward County picking up tree limbs. Those limbs will still be there when the winds die down, people:
Residents across downtown have been snapping photos and videos of the crane that collapsed earlier this morning. Here's another view shot by Niu Kitchen chef and owner Deme Lomas:
10:30 a.m. Several curfews have been extended across South Florida, including in Broward, which now has a curfew in place until 10 a.m. on Monday. In general, it's a very bad idea to be out on the road today.
The rising winds — including a nearly 100 mph gust recently recorded at Miami International Airport — have now knocked over one of the dozens of huge construction cranes downtown, exactly as city officials warned might happen earlier this week. The crane is at NE 3rd Street, according to Local 10, and its huge counterweight is now slamming into the building.
Flood waters and storm surge are also rising in Brickell and Downtown, as captured by the Miami Herald's Joey Flechas:
Here's a glimpse of the early tree damage in El Portal via New Times Laine Doss:
10:00 a.m. To file under "suboptimal news": Irma has now made landfall on Cudjoe Key, about 20 miles east of NOAA's projections yesterday. While the storm isn't moving any farther east, that small shift means Miami is in for stronger winds than initially forecast:
The National Weather Service says Miami Beach can expect regular gusts of 80 to 100 mph over the next several hours.
9:15 a.m. Conditions are definitely deteriorating in Miami and Broward this morning. Here's a look at the waterfront in Brickell as winds rip through:
Downtown Miami is reportedly flooding and billboards have been ripped open (or were cut before the storm for safety) in the winds.
WLRN lost its signal for about an hour due to the weather, but its engineers have now restored the emergency broadcasting service.
In the Keys, conditions are even worse. Someone who is possibly insane is live streaming from a beach in Marathon, which is very close to where the eye is currently passing:
Meanwhile trees are down and whiteout storm conditions are hitting around South Florida this morning:
8:45 a.m. There's an old wives' tale that the low pressure — and the existential stress — of a hurricane will induce labor in pregnant women. Actually, it's more than just a tall tale. Several scientific studies have actually found a correlation between hurricanes and early labor in women riding out the storm, although the data is far from definitive.
Whether it was hurricane-induced or not, a woman in Little Haiti went into labor last night just as Irma's worst began hitting South Florida. In fact, conditions were so bad that first responders couldn't get to her home. So paramedics from Miami Fire and Rescue talked her through labor on the phone — and she successfully gave birth amidst the wind and rain.
If the child is a girl, the woman is required by law to name her Irma.
— Tim Elfrink
8:30 a.m. Sunday There's no longer any doubt that Miami dodged a major bullet thanks to Irma's last-minute westward wobble — but that doesn't mean South Florida isn't taking serious punishment this morning. Overnight, increasingly dire winds howled through the region and tornadoes spun off rain bands. More than 852,500 homes and businesses are without power this morning, Florida Power & Light reports.
And Irma is still a long way from gone. As of 8 a.m., the storm's eye is either close to the lower Florida Keys or passing right over them. Irma did strengthen back into a Category 4 storm overnight as it passed over the Straits of Florida, and currently packs 130 mph winds. Hurricane-force winds extend 80 miles from the eye — so likely into Dade County — while tropical storm force winds are being felt 220 miles away, NOAA reports.
The storm should weaken a little, but most of its mass will stay over the warm and shallow Gulf, which is bad news for Florida's west coast. The storm is creeping up to the north-northwest at 8 mph, so Miami will continue to feel its effects all day today.
As for the Keys, the storm is brutal in Key West — but not as bad as some feared. It's possible the eye is passing farther to the east:
— Tim Elfrink
11 p.m. As Irma inches away from the Cuban coastline, the storm has slowed to a sluggish 6 mph and its sustained wind speed has dropped to 130 mph as it turns to the north-northwest, NOAA reports in its latest advisory. "Irma is forecast to restrengthen a little while it moves through the Straits of Florida and remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches the Florida Keys and the west coast of Florida," the forecasters write.
Irma will move over the lower Keys early Sunday morning and remain a major hurricane as it skirts up the Gulf Coast of Florida Sunday and into Monday before moving inland over Georgia.
Already more than 170,000 homes are without power around South Florida as Irma's outer bands hit the region:
10:00 p.m. Wondering how Miami police plan to get through a long, dark night of terrible weather? Cuban coffee is a helluva drug.
9:10 p.m. Heavy bands are rolling off the Atlantic into Miami Beach now as winds pick up. Tropical storm conditions have now hit most of Dade and Broward and conditions are expected to keep worsening tonight. Videos show extremely heavy rain and wind in South Beach:
8:00 p.m. Along a darkened stretch of Biscayne Boulevard in MiMo where nearly every window is boarded up or covered with shutters, light pours out of the Vagabond Motel. Inside the restored 1950s gem, 23 hotel guests and two poodles have joined Julian Géliot and Fabien Chalard, owners of the Vagabond Kitchen and Bar, to drink away their storm anxieties.
Géliot and Charland haven't opened up their bar to the general public as Irma's heavy rain bands and tornados tear through South Florida, but the pair said they wanted the hotel's guests to have a communal, safe spot to gather during the storm. They pop champagne and pour wine for the visitors, and put out plates of cheese and crackers as Avra Jain, the hotel's owner, mingles with the crowd.
"For me, our industry is about enjoying life and finding joy. That's why we invite the guests and friends and family here. It's incredible," Géliot says. "We have to enjoy life, because life is too hard."
The power is flickering on and off, but for now, the bar is a rare spot of happiness in an anxious city.
— Laine Doss
7:35 p.m. Over the last hour, Irma's power is really becoming evident across South Florida. Multiple tornado warnings remain in effect across Broward County, and the NWS has now issued a warning for Homestead, Cutler Bay and South Miami Heights until 8:15 p.m. That same area bore the brunt of damage from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
The weather service says these powerful bands are just the start of the impact South Florida will feel as Irma moves toward the peninsula:
7:15 p.m. That tornado warning has now been expanded to include most of Fort Lauderdale and surrounding communities.
There's also reportedly a tornado warning in South Dade. Channel 10 has another video of one of the Broward tornados:
6:45 p.m. A tornado warning has been issued in Broward County after a large tornado was confirmed on the ground in Oakland Park. The warning covers Coral Springs, Plantation and Sunrise until 7 p.m.
Apparently unrelated to that warning, a waterspout was also recently spotted swirling near downtown Fort Lauderdale:
Here's another look at it:
— Tim Elfrink
6:20 p.m. Who needs Al Roker when you have Notorious Nastie? Miami's favorite promotor, emcee, actor and all around character spent the day producing the kind of hard-hitting weather and Bermuda Triangle journalism this city needs right now.
6 p.m. Robert "Raven" Kraft has run seven miles through South Beach every single day since January 1, 1975. His relentless routine has drawn hundreds of fans to SoBe every day to run along with Raven and inspired books and documentaries. He ran through Hurricane Andrew's early storm bands and he was undeterred by Wilma or Katrina.
So you'd better believe that Raven went for his run today. The legendary jogger, who is now in his late 60s, faced down some stern headwinds and ran alongside a couple of stout companions this afternoon:
— Tim Elfrink
5:45 p.m. A few surfers were bold enough to tackle some waves off South Beach today before tropical storm strength winds began hitting the area. Afterward, some gathered on the street for an impromptu board-painting session to commemorate the occasion:
— Laine Doss
4:50 p.m. By Saturday afternoon, South Dixie Highway was a tunnel of boarded-up buildings and deserted sidewalks. Starbucks was closed. Wells Fargo was closed. Trader Joe’s was closed. But one OPEN sign flapped in the warm breeze as the outer bands of Hurricane Irma rolled in: Rollo’s Liquors and its attached strip club, Bare Necessity, was up and running.
As one customer after another swung open the front door, owner Carman Rollo leaned against the counter eating a couple of hot dogs he’d dressed with ketchup and mustard. Washing down his lunch with a swig of A&W, he says he takes a special kind of pride in being the only place open for miles.
“We always have the claim to fame,” he says with a laugh. “We’re the only nuts out here.”
Rollo’s son tends the register as he tells the colorful history of the establishment, which has been in the family since 1974. After taking over the business from their father, Rollo and his two brothers rebranded the rowdy rock ‘n’ roll dive near Kendall in the summer of ‘91. With a $100,000 loan from their dad, the boys scrubbed the place clean, demoed the grungy bathrooms, and opened back up as a strip joint.
They lost their prized bartender “Sheila Tequila,” who quit in protest, but overall, the bet paid off. Rollo expected it would be years before he and his brothers could pay back the loan, but when Hurricane Andrew flattened South Dade the next year, storm-scarred locals and out-of-state contractors sought comfort in familiar vices.
“We paid off our debt that week,” he remembers. “We named it Saint Andrew, there were so many people in here.”
The clientele was mostly “good ol’ boys from Alabama and Georgia” who came down to make money repairing damaged homes.
“We called it the roofers from hell,” Rollo says. “They worked hard and they wanted to play hard.”
On the eve of Irma, Rollo and his son answered a phone that rang off the hook, telling people to get there as quickly as they could. In a best-case scenario, they say they’ll be open as late as midnight, but if shit hits the fan, they’ll book it home in their green Expedition, ready to open up as soon as the storm passes with help from their on-site generator. Asked for recommendations, Rollo says the best drink is “anything you can get your hands on.”
“You might as well get what you enjoy," he says. "It all depends on what God has in store for you. It might be your last drink, He might just drop a tree on your ass while you’re driving.”
— Jessica Lipscomb and Brittany Shammas
4:00 p.m. There's at least one bar still open downtown: Mike's at Venetia Restaurant and Irish Pub, a longtime rooftop spot on the bay that once served as the unofficial house bar for Miami Herald writers. Too bad their newsroom moved to Doral — every journalist covering Irma could use a beer right about now.
Sara, the bartender working at Mike's, says she plans to stay open all night for anyone who wants to ride out the hurricane there.
"Mike's stayed open during Hurricane Andrew," she says. "It's a lot more comforting to ride out the storm together. I wouldn't want to be alone. If the storm hits and gets worse, I'm staying at the bar anyway."
A few dozen people are hanging out at Mike's as winds pick up off the bay. The building already shut off the air conditioning and might turn off the elevators to the ninth floor bar but everyone at the bar says it's better than any other option. Two men swigging drinks who gave their names as Capt. Bill and Capt. Steve say they live on a boat, which they parked in some nearby mangroves. They're going to stay at the bar "until they get kicked out."
— Laine Doss
3:45 p.m. Waters are already rising in Key West as storm surge from Irma approaches the island city. NOAA warns the Keys could see 15 to 20 foot storm surge and residents who stayed put are capturing alarming videos:
3 p.m. Until this morning, Paola Cappellin planned to ride out Hurricane Irma in her apartment on Key Biscayne. Then some friends offered to share their room at the Marriott in Dadeland. It was too good to pass up.
“Everybody says it’s going to be fine,” she said. “But the level of water in Key Biscayne is very high.”
On Saturday, Cappellin walked the near-deserted streets outside the hotel, letting her two-year-old black lab, Nala, lead the way. She said the dog, a service animal at Miami Children’s Hospital, had been skittish leading up to the storm — even after the vet gave her anti-anxiety medication.
“It didn’t really work well,” Cappellin said, looking down at Nala.
— Brittany Shammas
2:45 p.m. Inside her apartment across from Dadeland Mall, Natalia scanned the news Saturday afternoon with much trepidation. “I’m watching scared, panicked, high blood pressure,” she says. “A person like me is better not to touch it, but I had to watch it.”
So before the wind and rain picked up again, she threw a fleece jacket over her Harley-Davidson shirt and slipped on a pair of off-brand Crocs to head out for a quick walk. Having only lived in Miami for four years, Natalia — who would only give her first name — has never been through a major hurricane.“I don’t understand what it is,” she says, somewhat nervously.
From time to time, Natalia says she goes out to a park near a friend’s place by Vizcaya to feed a dozen stray cats that have been dumped there. On Friday, she spent much of the day trying to catch the cats but was unable to grab them as they scurried away.
“I hope it turns left a little bit,” she says. “I pray not for me, just for the animals. For me, I could swim here.”
— Jessica Lipscomb
2 p.m. Ask any longtime Miami resident and you’ll hear a good Hurricane Andrew story. For Larry Albert, the moment came in the middle of the night when his wife shook him awake in a panic.
“My wife got us up out of our bed and 10 minutes later, a tree came through our window,” he remembers. “Our house was pretty much destroyed.”
Albert’s son was 7 then, but this time around, the now-32-year-old is the one playing host to his parents and 22-year-old younger brother, who wasn’t around for Andrew. Albert says he and his wife, who now live in an apartment on 77th Avenue, decided to stay in their son’s fourth-floor apartment near Dadeland because the windows and building seemed sturdier.
Dressed in a white shirt, jeans, and navy Pumas, Albert roamed around Saturday afternoon getting some fresh air with his 11-year-old basset hound, Dexter. “I think he’s a little spooked because there are no people out,” Albert says.
After the morning rain had subsided, a warm breeze blew through the area. “It’s scary, obviously,” Albert says. “Now the latest forecast is sending it to the west, but we’ll still get side effects we haven’t seen since Andrew.”
— Jessica Lipscomb
1:45 p.m. The white sands of South Beach are eerily empty and windswept. The worst of Irma has yet to move into Miami Beach, but already the area is deserted:
— Laine Doss
1:30 p.m. Tropical storm force winds haven't even arrived in Miami yet and the dozens of huge construction cranes downtown are already showing the effects of the wind. An Instagram user caught one crane spinning like a weathervane this afternoon:
Earlier this week, the city warned that the cranes are only rated to stay up in 145 mile per hour wind or less and urged anyone living nearby to leave in case the huge structures toppled. Critics have asked why the city didn't order the cranes dismantled, but officials claim there wasn't enough time.
1:15 p.m. While it may be a godsend to be able to grab a McChicken sandwich as the eye of Hurricane Irma passes over the state, it’s often hell for workers at chain restaurants who are sometimes forced to work through the storm for little pay.
If you’re being exploited for a few extra corporate bucks during Hurricane Irma, a Florida activist organization wants to know about it. Central Florida Jobs With Justice, a nonprofit worker’s rights group, is compiling data on low-wage workers being forced to work through storm conditions across Florida. You can fill out the survey here, and also call the organization’s voicemail line at 407-920-8927. The group says they’re trying to respond to every call within 72 hours.
The survey asks you to check off whether your employer threatened to fire you for refusing to work during the storm, whether you were not given enough time to prepare for the storm, or were forced to work inside an evacuation zone against your will, among other questions. The organization also wants to know whether you were unable to gather supplies or care for your kids or family.
“Central Florida Jobs with Justice set up a survey for working people in Florida to fill out on what they are facing with their employers while dealing with Hurricane Irma,” the group wrote online. “This survey is meant to help us on how best to support our communities pre and post storm, assess community needs, and communicate with government officials. All responses will be kept confidential and not shared.”
Many workers in chain restaurants, hotels, and other low-wage positions cannot afford to take those shifts off or risk getting fired. Infamously, employees at Waffle House are often given hotel or motel rooms to crash in as they’re trapped working in disaster-level conditions. It is currently legal in Florida for employers to fire you for evacuating during a hurricane and missing a shift at work.
— Jerry Iannelli
1 p.m. Miami Beach is joining the City of Miami and ordering a curfew starting at 8 p.m. tonight and running until 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. Broward County has also announced a curfew starting at 4 p.m. But Miami-Dade says it's not going to issue a similar curfew order.
12:50 p.m. A true sign of the #IrmaPocalypse: Even Mac's Club Deuce, South Beach's legendary dive bar famous for riding out storms with epic parties, is closed and boarded up. Follow Laine Doss's live stream from South Beach here.
12:45 p.m. By Saturday afternoon, dozens of Miamians are still scrambling to find space for their cars in garages around the city before the weather conditions get worse. Outside Marlins park, a small crowd gathered as relatives tried to find spaces inside the Little Havana garage. But one of the men, Rembert Martinez, said at least one of the lots was already full.
Around the corner in front of the ballpark, Damiela Flores sat on the curb while her partner tried to find parking for their car. Flores lives nearby and plans to ride out the storm in Little Havana; she's from Mexico and splits her time between there and Miami, so she's dealing with Irma while much of her family just survived the 8.1 magnitude quake that rattled the country.
"We've all been a little better prepared. Everyone in the government has put in their part and guided us on how to prevent (loss) and be secure," she says.
— Celia Almeida
12:30 p.m. Hurricane Irma has not yet crawled up to the central and northern parts of Florida, but human-rights violations appear to be starting early in that end of the state. According to Facebook posts and government announcements online, at least two county sheriff’s organizations — in Flagler County and Pasco County — are using prison and inmate labor to fill sandbags for residents as the hurricane starts to pound the state.
“If you are in need of sand bags, head to the Bunnell Fire Station and let the inmates do the labor for you,” Flalger County Sheriff Rick Staly said in a press release Friday. “They will fill the bags and load them into your vehicle.”
Flagler County branded the ordeal “Operation Sandbag.” It’s unclear if the prisoners are forced to do the work or engage in shoveling voluntarily, but prison laborers are compensated in pennies for their work (if at all) and do not receive basic worker protections — especially for toiling in dangerous hurricane conditions.
It is also likely most of the inmates have not been convicted of crimes: The majority of inmates in county jails across the country are simply awaiting trial and cannot afford to pay bail and leave.
Flagler County announced today that inmates will be shoveling sand into bags at two fire stations today “as long as weather permits and the sand is available.”
Along Florida’s west coast, Pasco County officials wrote in a press release that residents could receive “inmate assistance” while shoveling their own sand, too. Pasco County has repeatedly used inmates to fill sandbags ahead of hurricanes or tropical storms, including during Tropical Storm Colin in June 2016.
Both counties are likely to start feeling the impacts of Irma’s massive wind field by the end of the day. It’s unclear when exactly the inmates will be brought back inside to safety.
— Jerry Iannelli
12:20 p.m. If you're gonna cover your windows with plywood, you may as well express yourself a little bit. Here's some of the good anti-Irma propaganda spotted around town so far:
12 p.m. Mayor Tomas Regalado is set to announce a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew in the city tonight:
11 a.m. There's little change in NOAA's latest public advisory. The track up the Keys and Southwest coast of Florida remains the same, while the storm has now dipped to 125 miles per hour as it pounds into Cuba, where the government has extended a hurricane warning to include Havana. But forecasters expect the storm to ramp back up in strength over the warm waters of the Florida Straits before it crosses into the Keys late tonight or early Sunday morning. In Florida, the hurricane warning has been extended along the Gulf coast all the way up to Fernandina Beach.
— Tim Elfrink
9 a.m. Miamians have done a hell of a job scrambling for plywood and shutters to protect their homes, but a few have taken the extra steps to keep their rides out of harm way as well:
8 a.m. In its latest advisory, NOAA's models continue to agree that Irma will follow a more westward track into Florida, which is terrible news for Marco Island, Naples and — eventually — Tampa and St. Pete, but much better news for Miami than earlier this week. Miami remains in the hurricane's cone, though, and considering that Irma is hundreds of miles wide, the "dirty side of the cane" is likely to deliver Category 2 or higher damage to Dade and Broward.
"On the forecast track, the core of Irma will continue to move near or over the north coast of Cuba this morning, and will reach the Florida Keys Sunday morning," NOAA writes. "The hurricane is expected to be near the southwest coast of Florida Sunday afternoon."
Much still rides on exactly when Irma turns north and a wobble in the storm's path is still possible. But the Florida Keys seem almost certain to get hammered by the storm. The heart of the cane is expected to pass over the Middle Keys early Sunday morning before tilting to the northeast.
For now, Irma has maximum winds of 130 miles per hour after rolling over northern Cuba and slightly weakening. But Irma "is expected to restrengthen once it moves away from Cuba," NOAA says.
— Tim Elfrink
7:30 a.m. By early Saturday morning, outer bands from Irma were already battering Miami. Much of Homestead and parts of South Dade lost power overnight and by sunrise strong winds and rain were pelting the area. In all, 25,000 are currently without power in Dade County, FPL says.
— Jessica Lipscomb and Nadine Demarco