hurricane evacuation

Kate Stein / WLRN

As Hurricane Irma churned through South Florida, Patrick O'Quinn felt trapped.

He'd moved to Miami about three months before the storm and described himself as "just getting on his feet in terms of finding a place to live." As the storm bore down, O'Quinn decided to fly to Memphis, where he has family.

Charles Trainor Jr. / Miami Herald

Before Sept. 10, the last Category 4 storm to cross the Florida Keys was Donna in 1960 — 57 years ago.

"A community loses its institutional knowledge over that time," said Martin Senterfitt, Monroe County director of emergency management. "And we start replacing it with knowledge of Category 1s and tropical storms and we start forgetting just how bad a storm can be."

Senterfitt, and everybody else in the Keys, now has direct experience of how a major hurricane can impact the low-lying island chain. Irma destroyed hundreds of homes and caused major damage to thousands more.

Al Diaz / Miami Herald

Hotels and room-sharing services could become part of hurricane preparations in South Florida, say officials who are looking to encourage local evacuations for future storms.

"Really, within the state there's nowhere to evacuate that's safer than staying within Miami-Dade County because we can't necessarily predict where a hurricane's going to end up," said Jane Gilbert, chief resilience officer for the city of Miami. "People had a hard time getting out of the state."

Kate Stein / WLRN

Miami-Dade needs to improve its communications before the next storm, said Mayor Carlos Gimenez, acknowledging that the county could have been clearer about which shelters were open when in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma last month.

Miami Herald

Florida residents will no longer get a free pass traversing most stretches of Florida’s Turnpike or certain local expressways across the state.

The Florida Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that starting at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, tolls on a vast majority of Florida’s Turnpike system, all state roads and bridges, and all regional toll facilities will be re-instated.

After a painful flight across several states to escape unpredictable Hurricane Irma, Suzanne Pallot says it's unlikely she would evacuate South Florida again — an attitude echoed by other evacuees that experts say could put them in danger when the next storm hits.

Al Diaz / Miami Herald

Growing up in Miami, Luis Gazitúa lived through Hurricane Andrew in 1992 – one of the most destructive storms ever to hit South Florida. That’s why the Coconut Grove attorney recognized the awful danger of Hurricane Irma.

Irma was even bigger and stronger than Andrew. So when early forecast models this month showed it heading straight for Miami, Gazitúa and his family decided to evacuate South Florida.

“We had actually booked rooms in Orlando,” Gazitúa says at his law office in Coral Gables. “My father, my brother, our children and our wives and my mother.”