As Hurricane Irma threatened to devastate much of the Florida peninsula, residents have been packing up and heading north in unprecedented numbers.
The massive storm has forced mandatory evacuations of several Florida cities and counties, which could well be “one of the largest mass exoduses in U.S. history,” according to CNN.
In fact, nearly 6 million people reside in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — all of which have areas placed under mandatory evacuation orders.
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Monroe County, home to the highly vulnerable Florida Keys, saw more than 30,000 people evacuate after county administrator Roman Gastesi warned that all hospitals would be closed and ambulances — including air ambulances — would be out of service as of Friday morning.
The eye of the storm was expected to make landfall in the Keys on Sunday morning before traveling up the Atlantic coastline, the National Hurricane Center reported, according to USA Today By Saturday evening, the storm had already begun to lash parts of the Sunshing State, according to CBS.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged residents of his state on Thursday to “get out now.”
“Do not sit and wait for this storm to come,” Scott warned.
From the looks of Google map traffic-cam data, Floridians have been heeding the governor’s warning, causing massive traffic jams on Interstates 95 and 75 and Florida’s Turnpike.
Darlena Cunha, a Gainesville resident, explained how bad the gridlock has become for those attempting to flee the state.
“People are sitting in their vehicles, completely stopped on four-lane highways, running out of gas. There are no exits on these roads for scores of miles at a time. Once you get on a Florida highway, you are not getting off. You’re stuck,” she wrote in an article for The Washington Post published on Friday.
The difficult predicament put Floridians between a rock and a hard place — as hurricane season can.
“We stay here in our flimsily built house, made of sheet rock and plywood; or we hop on an unmoving highway and risk running out of gas closer to the coast, with only our car for protection,” Cunha explained.
The sheer number of people trying to travel northward as the storm approached could actually exacerbate the devastation Irma will likely bring, as many residents, unfortunately, will not be able to make it out in time due to traffic gridlock and other hardships that come when millions of people head in one direction, on few roads, at the same time.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those in the path of this monstrous storm.
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