Hurricane Irma is expected to make a turn toward Florida in the next 24 to 48 hours. The size and strength of the storm drove the largest evacuation in the state’s history. Thousands of residents are in shelters. Even more left the state entirely.
Most of our reporters and staff at The Miami Hurricane left South Florida, but five of us stayed down here. We’ve bought our cases of water and been compulsively watching local news, and we’ll be reporting our observations on this live blog, starting Saturday, Sept. 9.
Saturday, Sept. 9
Isabella Cueto, 9:58 a.m., Miami, FL: Here’s a great read I came across yesterday. It talks about how Florida (particularly South Florida) was a human-made goldmine, and how that could come back to bite us with Hurricane Irma.
More good reads while waiting out Irma:
Follow me on Twitter @isabellacueto
Jackie Yang, 1:09 p.m., Tampa: Blogging from my bedroom desk in Tampa. This summer, the Washington Post did this gripping long feature on how the Tampa Bay area would cope with a major hurricane, and it seems uncanny that just six weeks later we find ourselves in Irma’s direct path. I think that a lot of the Gulf Coast feels a little blindsided by the turn in yesterday night’s and this morning’s NHC updates, since just a few days ago we were evacuating Miami to come to Tampa.
Luckily, I’m located inland, so the effects of storm surge shouldn’t be as severe as they will be along the bay and in coastal areas like St. Petersburg and Clearwater, but time and supplies are running out.
Only a few of the houses in our neighborhood are boarded up at this point – we woke up at 5:30 this morning to go to Lowe’s in search of any remaining plywood, only to hear that last night’s delivery truck was canceled. Home Depot is closed. People have waited somewhere around three hours for the chance of getting sandbags, but sand is almost out now as well. Some families started evacuating last night. We’re all waiting with bated breath here, trying to secure our house through whatever means possible. The biggest takeaway for me as a Floridian is to really be prepared in pre-hurricane season.
There’s definitely a tendency for us to be in denial – especially in the Tampa area, where the last major hurricane hit in 1921 – that’s before our school even existed! After this hurricane season, I think we’re definitely going to install tracks for hurricane shutters in the future. I sincerely hope that everyone near the bay and the coast evacuated or have safe shelter.
Tommy Fletcher, 2:22 p.m., Miami: I’m riding out the storm at my apartment, about three miles north of UM’s campus. So far, it doesn’t seem like we’re being hit by Irma as hard as some other areas of Miami-Dade County. Thankfully, I still have power unlike the almost 26,000 people in Miami-Dade that FPL says are without power.
Despite living in Evacuation Zone C – which has been under a mandatory evacuation order since early yesterday – it doesn’t seem like many people have left my building. Our building manager asked everyone who is staying to put a sign on their door with how many people are inside, and there’s plenty of signs hanging on doors on my floor. The only inkling that we’re about to experience the effects of a major hurricane is the elevators, which have been shut off in case we lose power.
I went to the Publix down the street yesterday to get some last minute supplies and it was like shopping on a normal busy day – shelves were pretty well stocked, the bakery was making fresh bread and I was able to get a few gallons of water to add to my stockpile.
As I sit in my room, waiting for the storm to pass and switching between rolling local news coverage of Irma and Criminal Minds on Netflix, I’ve eaten almost a whole loaf of Italian bread that I got from Publix yesterday. I suspect the other one will be gone by tonight.
Follow me on Twitter @_tommyfletcher
Isabella Cueto, 4:33 p.m., Miami: So far the weather has been pretty mild on my end, about 5 minutes from the Coral Gables campus. There have been bursts of heavy wind and rain, but nothing too serious. A few minutes ago, we got a call from Florida Power & Light and then, on cue, the lights started flickering.
Hopefully our electricity holds on for a while longer. We have a good stockpile of water and snacks at my house, as well as flashlights. And we have a thermos full of café con leche because…Miami. Everyone is still holding on hope that Hurricane Irma keep steering to the west, but that doesn’t mean we’ll miss hurricane-force winds (they extend out about 70 miles from the center of the storm).
Emily Dulohery, 5:43 p.m., Miami: Having grown up in land-locked Kansas, I severely underestimated how much of a threat this storm posed until approximately ten minutes after the evacuation order from UM. My original plan was to stay on campus, in my small but familiar dorm room, and live off of peanut butter and instant oatmeal until the windows shattered and ended my Netflix binge.
When we evacuated I switched to Plan B: take a bus to Orlando, where a friend would pick me up and drive me to her family home. Plans C-Z when my bus was cancelled after an hour of waiting in front of the Holiday Inn it never arrived at: avoid crowded, shower-less shelters if at all possible.
So I write this from Tommy’s apartment (what a lifesaver), where I have been sitting in approximately the same spot all day, fielding concerned texts and Facebook messages from family and occasionally glancing out the windows. I can hear wind whistling outside the walls, and there have been intermittent blasts of rain all day, but the conditions haven’t spurred me to panic yet. Irma’s recent downgrade to a Category 3 hurricane may also be contributing to the confidence I’m feeling in our safety here, though predictions of five- to seven-foot storm surges just down US-1 leave me wondering how much of our campus will be intact come Monday morning. In the meantime, though, I’m going to enjoy the pounds of pasta we’ll be eating for dinner and just hope the windows don’t crack.
Tommy Fletcher, 7:29 p.m., Miami: We had a nice break in the weather about a half hour ago – the wind and rain died down and it seemed like a normal Saturday night in Miami. Since then, though, the weather has deteriorated quite a bit.
Emily and I are sitting at the kitchen counter, listening to the sound of the wind driving the rain against my apartment’s sliding glass balcony door. In the background the TV is on, where NBC 6’s John Morales has been trying to juggle coverage of at least four tornado warnings to our north and south for the past 40 minutes.
As of now, we still have power and internet here (knock on wood)… probably because the line feeding my building is underground.
You can definitely tell that Irma is coming, but we’re ready for the worst of it. We gorged ourselves on three pounds of pasta and bread (we have leftover pasta, but that second loaf of bread is completely gone).
Amanda Herrera, 7:28 p.m. (Central Time), Appleton, WI: Nearly 24 hours after leaving Miami, I am home. Wisconsin isn’t exactly known for going through hurricanes. So, I’ll be the first to admit, I underestimated the impact Hurricane Irma could have on the city I’ve come to love.
I initially intended to ride out the storm with my friends in Miami. However, as the storm got closer, I realized maybe it wasn’t the best idea for me. On Wednesday, I scrambled all day to find a flight home. I was desperate. After spending the majority of the day searching through Expedia, Orbitz, Google Flights, etc. I finally found one. It was the last seat on a flight to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Though it’s over four and a half hours away from my parents’ home, I booked it. Luckily, one of my closest friends lives there and agreed to pick me up.
Though I was momentarily relieved to have an escape route out of Florida, there was one problem. The flight I booked left from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) at 4:12 p.m. Friday. By Thursday morning, flights were being cancelled leaving out of Miami International Airport (MIA) and FLL.
Luckily, I was on one of the last flights to be allowed out of FLL on Friday after waiting for three hours to check-in and go through TSA. Oh, and an hour delay. I just made it. I missed my connection from Detroit to Minneapolis. But I was just happy to be back in the Midwest and away from danger. Today, I rebooked a flight to the Twin Cities and made it by 9 a.m. My friend picked me up and we drove for five hours to Appleton, Wisconsin.
As I sit here on my bed, I can’t help but feel incredibly blessed. I’m incredibly blessed to have made it out along with the majority of my friends and loved ones. However, there are still some friends left in Irma’s path. I don’t know what they or my second home, Miami, will be going through in the next 24 hours. However, I do know that my friends are strong. Miami is strong. I plan to spend the rest of my weekend checking in on my friends, watching hurricane coverage religiously and hoping for the best.
Sunday, Sept. 10
Isabella Cueto, 10:13 a.m., Miami: Overnight, I moved my mattress into the middle of the living room, where I was away from windows and could still conveniently hear everything — every wind gust, every palm tree hitting our roof in a rhythmic and torturous beat, every tiny frog screaming for help.
I didn’t sleep much because of the noise. Also, I’d open my eyes every few hours to monitor when the power went out. We finally lost power around 3 a.m. With this storm, we knew losing power meant being out of it for days if not weeks. As of this morning, nearly a third of Florida Power and Light’s customers were reporting outages.
(I’m sending this update through Tommy, who lives a few miles away but still has power. Thanks, Tommy)
The wind and the rain are violent, and the big gusts that knock down trees and palm fronds and do worse than that come in patches.
The biggest to my home right now are a few big trees and a bunch of power lines near said big trees.
A quick note: I’m in awe of the reporters out in the field right now, camping out in Key West (like Nancy Klinenger from WLRN and David Ovalle from the Miami Herald) to cover this storm well. And I feel heartened by people dedicated enough to stay up for hours on end to broadcast, produce and report on a natural disaster. It makes me feel like no matter how bad the destruction, we’ll make it through.
If you have any questions about what’s going on down here or anything else, tweet me @isabellacueto!
Jackie Yang, 12:40 p.m., Tampa: There is now a mandatory 6 p.m. curfew in Tampa. We’re getting a few outer rain bands, and Anderson Cooper is in downtown Tampa as I type! (My dad suggested driving down there to go say hi – I nixed this proposal.) We’ve had our eyes glued to the news and have seen how badly Miami is getting hit on the edges of the hurricane. It only makes us wonder what Irma is going to look like when the central part of that storm passes over the Tampa Bay area and the Gulf Coast. A lot of people in my area who haven’t evacuated went into shelters yesterday, and I think most closed doors at around 12 p.m. today.
In terms of preparation, last night we cleaned and filled all our tubs with water for personal hygiene/flushing, froze two cases of water bottles, and ate our way through our fridge. Still no plywood! Everyone in my house has been receiving concerned texts from friends as they ask us how the weather is, but it’s only misting right now with some wind. I think at this point, we’re just tired of the anxiety and dread. As my mom says, let’s just get it over with already.
Emily Dulohery, 2:34 p.m., Miami: Our wi-fi is down, the power is out, and our water pressure is slowly dropping, but I still feel fortunate that so far, I’m experiencing this storm as an inconvenience, rather than the serious threat to life and property it is for so many people who happen to live west or south of here. It sounds like the entire ocean is crashing against these walls, but I continue to enjoy the luxury of a well-stocked kitchen, running water, and — most noticeable in comparison to the safe but fully occupied shelters– rooms and rooms of free space.
Even returning to “life as usual” after the storm passes will be significantly less painful for residential students at UM, including myself, than for the thousands and thousands of people who had no choice but to board up their windows, bring their children and pets to hot school gyms, and wonder if the hurricane passing outside will leave them a home to go back to. At the end of this week, my biggest post-storm worry will be when the classes we’re missing will get made up. Our campus will be checked for safety hazards long before we head back; restoration of any damaged buildings will start quickly, I’m sure, with the backing of UM’s many benefactors.
So even as I switch restlessly between a book I’ve already read and notes I’ve already reviewed, I’m trying not to sigh too loudly about the faltering cell signal and room-temperature drinking water. I could have it much, much worse.
Tommy Fletcher, 4:03 p.m., Miami: We lost power at my apartment a few hours ago, but luckily it seems like the worst of Irma has already passed.
Isa’s description of the storm sounding like a pressure washer is the most accurate I’ve heard, and it’s especially true when you’re eight stories up like I am. Thankfully, Emily and I are safe – the only issue we had is some water leaking in through the door to the balcony.
I can already tell that recovering from this storm will be a lengthy process, and it’s going to take a long time for things to feel normal again in South Florida. As the winds start to die down, we’ll really know what we’re in for. I dealt with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy (I’m from about 10 miles north of where the storm made landfall), and I can tell you that the next couple of days are going to be rough.
It’ll be a struggle to find somewhere to charge your phone, or to figure out how to live without running water for a few days (not sure why my apartment doesn’t have running water, but luckily I filled up my roommate’s bathtub before the storm hit).
We’ll get through it, though. I don’t regret staying here for the storm, and I’m excited to be able to play a small part in helping my new home recover and to be able to tell the stories of other people doing the same.
Tommy Fletcher, 9:31 p.m., Miami: I’m laying in bed trying to fall asleep after what feels like one of the longest days of my life. I’m so tired but not tired at all, and my mind can’t seem to stay focused on the same thing for more than an instant. I notice the shapes that my “snuggly sweater” scented candle makes on the wall, then my eyes jump to the purplish rectangles that float across the ceiling when a police car drives by. I hear the fire alarm from the building next door fighting with the howling wind outside. I also hear yelling outside so I walk over to my window, wondering if I’ll see someone looting a store across the street or someone being arrested for breaking Miami-Dade’s 9 p.m. curfew. I look on to the street and see no one, but the yelling gets clearer. One of my neighbors is screaming “F**k you Irma, f**k you, stupid b***h,” into the wind.
Whoever you are, I agree with you.
Monday, Sept. 11
Emily Dulohery, 11:34 a.m., Miami: I started the day drenched in sweat, but glad to see the sun piercing through slow-moving clouds. Looking at the street below, it would be difficult to tell that a hurricane of Irma’s strength passed by; apart from some fallen foliage and darkened stoplights, the scene is the same as it was 72 hours ago.
For us, and the rest of Miami, this week has become a waiting game: waiting for power to be restored, waiting for water to flow freely through the pipes, waiting for cleanup to begin so we can get on with our lives. I never thought I’d be this eager for classes to start, but last night, I dreamed of a physics test and woke up smiling.
Amanda Herrera, 4:45 p.m. (Central Time), Appleton, WI: It’s hard to put into words how I’ve felt the past few days. However, I, by no means, compare it to what those left in Miami are feeling. From afar, I’ve seen the streets I drive down every day inundated with water. I’ve seen some of my favorite areas of Miami severely damaged. Some of those areas hold my fondest memories. I’ve seen the city I love, Miami, on national television more than I ever have. However, it’s for the worst reason.
Sometimes, it can be exciting to see the city you call “home” on T.V. But at this point, I wish they’d stop mentioning Miami and Florida — especially within seconds of saying “complete devastation.”
As I’ve said before, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for my safety. I’m also thankful that all my friends in the storm’s path have been accounted for and are well.
The hard part comes when I ask myself: how will Miami recover?
But it will and it started today.
Tuesday, Sept. 12
Tommy Fletcher, 6:42 p.m., Miami: It’s safe to say that things are beginning to return to normal here in Miami, even as much of the area – myself included – is still without power. I can hear the Metrorail, which resumed service earlier today, zooming by my apartment, and it even looks like there’s a little traffic on U.S. 1.
While it’s clear that some things are getting back to normal, other things – especially cell phone service – still make it seem like we’re still in the middle of the storm. Service gets better or worse depending on where you go, but for me most places have only had consistent voice service. Text and data services have been sporadic at best, making it difficult to keep TMH’s readers updated.
After being stuck in my apartment yesterday (the gate to my apartment’s parking area was stuck shut), Emily and I finally got to do some exploring today. We visited UM’s Coral Gables and RSMAS campuses, and though we weren’t allowed to set foot on the campuses due to safety concerns, we were able to see the damage on the outside edges. Especially on the Coral Gables campus, downed trees seemed to be the main issue. The RSMAS campus also experienced some flooding, a public safety officer told us, but it was less severe than they expected.
For tomorrow I have two goals – see the damage at UM first hand, and restore power to my apartment, even if it means repairing the lines myself. I may or may not be kidding about that second part.
Emily Dulohery, 7:51 p.m., Miami: Tommy and I are still powerless, but the water pressure has built up enough for a short, cold shower. (Upon realizing this, I nearly cried tears of joy). I’ve spent most of my waking hours over the past few days sitting outside on the balcony, which offers an occasional breeze and entertainment in the form of confused drivers at an unlit stoplight.
This afternoon, seeking A/C and a place to charge our dying phones, we ended up at an unnamed sports bar in North Miami with questionable post-storm food safety practices. Stuffed with hot, greasy food and iced tea, I promptly fell asleep upon returning. Sleeping, I’ve realized, is the best way to pass time when the wi-fi’s down and it’s too hot to think. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll wake up to the hum of the air conditioner and a strong internet connection. If not, I’ll be knocking on the door of every lit house to ask if they’d like to temporarily adopt a bored, sweaty journalist.
Wednesday, Sept. 13
Annie Cappetta, 12:56 p.m., Indianapolis: I’m really only passing through Indianapolis as we make the eight hour drive from Nashville to Chicago. My lovely evacuation buddies are taking their turns driving and navigating. Although the hurricane has passed, our evacuation journey only gets longer. Between the initial drive to Nashville, backtracking on Friday to pick up a friend who flew into Atlanta and this final leg to Chicago, we’ll have driven about 32 hours total.
The original plan was to just drive back to Miami today, but I was registered for an LSAT at FIU on Saturday which was cancelled. I wasn’t allowed to reschedule to another Florida location because so many have cancelled. The next date to take the LSAT is December, too late for my law school applications.
So after a week at my aunt’s house, we’re driving to my hometown, Chicago, where I can take the LSAT and where O’Hare to Miami flights are inexpensive and numerous. The additional 26 hour drive Chicago to Miami will not be feasible, plus the traffic, gas and accommodation obstacles included in the mass return to Florida, meaning I’ll be leaving my car at home until Thanksgiving or winter break.
I’ll be out of a car at school and feeling foolish for purchasing a parking pass, out of all of the travel costs on this trip, out of pay for time lost on my campus jobs, out of dedicated study time for the LSAT that I was supposed to have in the two weeks leading up to it and out of electricity in my off-campus house for who knows how long.
Yet, I’m still counting myself very lucky. I’m lucky to have made it out safely. I’m lucky I have welcoming places to stay. I’m lucky I have had the financial means for these evacuation options. I’m lucky to have spent time in a couple of amazing cities with my best friends. And I’m lucky to have a home to go back to.
Emily Dulohery, 1:30 p.m., Miami: Earlier this afternoon, Tommy and I spent over an hour touring the Gables campus on a UMPD golf cart. Even after listening to update after update from the ENN and university leadership, I was not prepared for the amount of debris strewn across half the roads and walkways. Trees too big for me to wrap my arms around lay uprooted in the grass; those that remain standing are stripped of their leaves and branches. The officer who drove us across the grounds stopped periodically to yell over the noise of bulldozers and chainsaws. “All this was underwater,” he said, gesturing to the path outside the registrar’s office. “That’s why all these coconuts are here; they float.”
Still, in the 24 hours since Tommy and I were near campus last, it’s become apparent that the cleanup crews are working quickly and tirelessly. San Amaro Drive, which was blocked off and completely impassable yesterday afternoon, is cleared and open to traffic. Outside the Watsco Center, an enormous pile of brush is growing larger, as workers gather debris from the parking lot and surrounding entrances. It appears that several days’ work will still be required to clear the literal tons of fallen trees from campus, and inspect those that are still upright for dangerous broken or hanging limbs, but we are fortunate that the worst of the damage Irma inflicted on UM’s Gables campus was limited to flooding on the first floor of select buildings.
Tonight, the University of Miami will make an official announcement regarding the start of classes, and the plan for the rest of the semester. I don’t know what to expect from the coming weeks, besides a desperate race to catch up to the detailed syllabuses laid out at the beginning of the semester, but I’m confident that the leadership at UM has made decisions in the best interest of the students, faculty, and staff affected.