Traffic is seen heading north along the Florida Turnpike near Homestead as tourists and residents in the Florida Keys leave town ahead of Hurricane Irma on Wednesday, 6 September 2017. Photo: Al Diaz / Miami Herald

By Charles Rabin and Nicholas Nehamas
6 September 2017

(Miami Herald) – Spooked by horrific images from Hurricane Harvey and the approaching terror of Hurricane Irma, many residents of the Florida Keys joined the stream of tourists fleeing the path of a Category 5 storm Wednesday.

So far, Florida’s first mandatory evacuation of 2017 — a test case for what could be a region-wide flight away from the coast — doesn’t look anything like the 2005 catastrophe that left dozens dead and motorists stranded as Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf states.

On Wednesday morning, a caravan of cars and trucks — many towing boats — headed north out of the low-lying Keys. Traffic backed up south of Upper Matecumbe but wasn’t much worse than the usual workday rush or weekend crush. An estimated 12,000 visitors left the Keys. And even some old-time conchs who rode threats out in the past admitted they were rattled.

“I don’t think it’ll be safe anywhere,” said Melissa Norman, who was packing up belongings at her mobile home in Key Largo’s Blackwater Sound. She’s heading to Fort Myers, where she has an aunt.

The storm could follow wherever you go, warned her husband Jerry, 55. Instead of leaving, he plans to hunker down in the sturdy concrete building at Mile Marker 100 where he runs a towing business.

“Everyone’s freaking out,” said Norman, a burly man whose phone rings to the tune of “Smoke on the Water.”

“This one is different,” he said. “It’s scary.” [more]

‘Everyone’s freaking out.’ Florida Keys evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma

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