Florida directly in path of monster Category 5 storm that swamped Caribbean

September 7, 2017 GMT

The most powerful Category 5 hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic is barreling toward Florida’s southern coast after decimating a small chain of Caribbean islands with 185 mph winds, prompting officials to evacuate tens of thousands of people from the Sunshine State as meteorologists scramble to pinpoint where and when the “buzz saw” storm is going to make landfall.

As preparations for Hurricane Irma reached a fever pitch in Miami, worried residents picked store shelves clean, long lines formed at gas pumps and Gov. Rick Scott waived tolls on highways statewide to keep the throng of drivers fleeing north flowing.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, in ordering an evacuation of coastal areas, said, “If you do not heed the warning and you do not heed the mandatory evacuation order and you have a problem, I’m not saying we can’t get to you, I’m saying we may not be able to get to you, so that’s the risk you are taking.”

At the same time, varying weather models made ordering evacuations difficult.

“It’s hard to tell people where to go until we know exactly where it will go,” Scott said.

Weather forecasters said Irma could strike the Miami area by early Sunday, then rake the state’s east coast and roll into Georgia and the Carolinas.

“This thing is a buzz saw,” warned Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach. “I don’t see any way out of it.”

Scott, who anticipates activating 7,000 National Guard members by tomorrow morning, told residents who were thinking about leaving before the storm arrived to “get out now.”

The governor’s comments came hours after Irma lashed Puerto Rico with heavy rain and powerful winds, leaving more than 600,000 people without power. Earlier in the day, nearly every building on Barbuda was damaged when the eye of the storm passed directly over the small island just east of St. Kitts and St. Martin, and left at least 1,400 people homeless.

With meteorologists predicting Irma will careen headlong into Florida, some residents opted to hop a flight to Boston. Many of the Sunshine State residents who arrived at Logan International Airport with their pets and whatever belongings they could gather together said they worried the homes they left behind wouldn’t be there when they go back.

“I put up some boards and sandbags against the door and booked a one-way ticket for myself and another for my wife, who’s coming tomorrow,” said Joseph Paolini, a 28-year-old health care consultant from Georgetown who now lives in Boca Raton, two blocks from the ocean, and arrived with one suitcase and his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Louie.

“All the gas stations back home are already out of gas,” he said. “What can you do? You can’t move the house. At least we have flood insurance.”

Marc Eisenstock, a Worcester native and Palm Beach Gardens resident, was originally supposed to fly into Boston with his wife on Sept. 20 to visit family. But as Irma approached, they moved their flight up, first to this Saturday and then to yesterday.

“With the storm, we decided to get out of Dodge as soon as we could,” said Eisenstock, 68, who tracked the hurricane throughout his flight.

“But trying to move up our flight was brutal. We called around the clock for three days and finally got tickets for today, but on separate flights,” Eisenstock said. “Then we battened down all the hatches and shutters and raced out of the house.”

Amy Manchester, 61, of Sudbury and Boca Raton said local grocery stores were completely out of water and other staples. But she and her husband, Steve, were grateful to get a flight to Boston yesterday with their Maltese Poodle-Cocker Spaniel mix, Cali, even though it meant leaving behind their home on the beach.

“It’s anyone’s guess what’s going to be left,” Steve Manchester, 64, said.