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Thousands flee from Irma’s path of destruction

(Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)

As the forecast for Hurricane Irma becomes more ominous, thousands of Floridians are beginning to flee the state, all of them headed in one direction: north.
Graphs published by the Florida Department of Transportation show record numbers of traffic on the roads right now.
With Miami-Dade and Broward counties under mandatory evacuation, there are almost half a million people looking for refuge in other states.
Westbound on US 41 in Collier County typically sees 50 cars per hour around 8 p.m., but is currently seeing just over 225 cars per hour.
US 27 northbound in Palm Beach county is experiencing a 450% increase in use, with 1,100 cars trying outrun the storm before its expected landfall this weekend.
While some roads are experiencing astronomical numbers of traffic, other areas are experiencing their normal high volumes.
The northbound Miami-Dade and Palm Beach county turnpikes have around 4,000 cars per hour on average, and this number has remained constant even despite the panic that has flooded the eastern coast.
In order to alleviate some of the traffic pains in other areas, Gov. Rick Scott has eliminated tolls, which are normally huge bottlenecks for areas with high levels of traffic.
Despite this, other obstacles have filled the vacuum and escape continues to be an uphill battle.
The statewide gas shortage has become a pervasive problem, despite fuel tankers now receiving police escorts to gas stations in order to reach gas stations as quickly as possible.
Drivers may be waiting in line at the tanks for hours before they are able to continue on their journey. At the Costco in North Naples, some drivers even waited in the early hours of dawn at the empty gas station so that they could be some of the first to fill up.
Floridians who don’t want to sit in bumper to bumper traffic or endure the hours long back up along highways are turning their eyes to the sky, but air travel isn’t looking much better.
With airlines like JetBlue, Delta, and American all capping the costs of flights out of Florida, there has been a massive surge towards airports.
As Hurricane Irma draws closer, time is ticking before planes will be unable to transport passengers through Irma’s 185 mph winds and intense rainfall.
American Airlines has already cancelled flights out of Miami, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and West Palm Beach, and will be tapering available flights until Saturday, when all flights out of Florida will be cancelled.
Orlando International Airports will also be stopping flights at 2 p.m. on Saturday, while the last flights out of Fort Lauderdale airport will be Friday night.
For those looking to take the rails out, Amtrak has already started canceling trains and, as of Wednesday, is completely sold out.
But it is still possible to leave the state. While travel on the roads will be difficult, it is by no means impossible.
Gov. Rick Scott has been emphasizing that early evacuation is key. As Irma’s forecast becomes certain, roads will only become more packed as the gravity of the situation begins to dawn on those who have planned to weather the storm.
With mandatory evacuations for Lee county islands beginning Friday, the number of drivers on the road is an upward trajectory, and getting ahead of the curve will only become more difficult as Irma’s landfall approaches.
“Leave now, don’t wait,” Scott said in his speech this morning at the Center for Emergency Operations.
Those who want to evacuate should do so before Saturday, when tropical storm force winds are expected to batter the state before the full force of Irma’s arrival.
Those choosing to hunker down should still ensure they are prepared for a possible evacuation. Irma’s path is still up in the air, and she could take a turn for the worse at any moment.

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