hurricane

LA Johnson/NPR

As Hurricane Irma works its way to Florida's coast, feelings of stress and anxiety may also be brewing for those anticipating its effects.

A national hotline wants to help you.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline is available for immediate counseling to anyone affected by the impending hurricane and storms in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Despite Keys officials urging islanders to pack up and leave Thursday, many residents were still debating whether to stay or hit the Overseas Highway.  

Jim Heslin was putting shutters on a house at the top of Key West's Solares Hill, the highest point of the southernmost island.  

"We're not sure yet, so we have a back-up plan to get out on the 6 p.m. flight tonight," Heslin said.

He said he has been watching the advisories from the Hurricane Center.

Tom Hudson / WLRN

If evacuation orders for parts of downtown Miami aren’t enough of an incentive to leave, city officials are also telling people to leave downtown high-rises because of construction cranes.

Officials from the city of Miami say there are more than 20 cranes in downtown Miami right now. They're engineered to withstand winds of 145 miles per hour -- less than what Irma might bring if it hits as a category 4 or 5 storm.

The Weather Channel

Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross has a reputation as the reasoned voice that guided South Florida through the lowest moments of Hurricane Andrew.

And now, he’s trying to help South Florida prepare to survive Hurricane Irma.

Norcross spent an hour on WLRN’s Topical Currents Thursday giving solid advice and answering questions from listeners. You can hear the discussion below:

Some of the major takeaways:

Do you want to vigorously dab, protest, Goth dance, or shoot a Ki blast cannon (a Dragon Ball Z attack) at Hurricane Irma to shoo it away? How about spin your arms really fast or spin your fidget fingers to ward off the impending storm?

While Facebook cancellations for regularly scheduled events are streaming in, a new kind of event has been popping up: any and all kind of rituals to try and convince the weather gods and goddesses that Florida is not the place for Hurricane Irma.

Updated at 5:00 a.m. ET Friday

The National Hurricane Center says Irma is now a Category 4 storm. It has maximum sustained winds of 155 mph.

Updated at 11 p.m. ET

Hurricane Irma continued its northwestward sweep Thursday evening, losing little steam as it skirted the Dominican Republic and Haiti and bearing the full force of its 165-mph winds down upon the southeastern Bahamas and away from the Turks and Caicos islands. Forecasters upgraded their alert for South Florida to a warning.

Residents across Florida have waited in lines for sandbags to fight the possibility of floods that Hurricane Irma may bring. Now, what to do with them?

Updated at 8 a.m. ET Friday

Irma is one of the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricanes ever recorded, and its wind speeds remain about 150 miles per hour, with stronger gusts. As this monster churns through the Caribbean and heads toward Florida, here is the lowdown.

How dangerous is it?

When you're building a zoo disaster plan, there's one thing to keep in mind: Murphy's law. Anything that could go wrong, will.

Just ask the flock of flamingos that weathered Hurricane Andrew in a public restroom at Zoo Miami in 1992.

Or, you could ask the zoo personnel across the coast who've been running emergency drills since the start of hurricane season.

National Hurricane Center

Updated at 8:15 p.m.

Hurricane Irma continues ripping a path through the Caribbean towards Florida as a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175 mph, according to the 8 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center.

Evacuation orders have been issued across South Florida: Monroe County is under complete evacuation orders; Miami-Dade County Zones A, B, C are under evacuation orders; Broward County east of U.S. 1 is under evacuation orders; Palm Beach County Zones A, B, C are also under evacuation orders.

Joey Flechas / Miami Herald

Eugene Johnson purchased two loaves of bread and batteries for his flashlight. Those are his supplies in preparation for Hurricane Irma.

“I’m on fixed income,” said Johnson. “This hit me out of the blue. I had to pay my rent, my electricity bill and stuff like that.”

In his kitchen cabinet he already had a few cans of tuna and he plans to boils some eggs.

Johnson, 65, lives in an affordable housing complex in Miami and, like many of his neighbors who are also on fixed or limited income, he doesn’t own a car.

David Adame / AP

Miami police intends to involuntarily commit homeless individuals starting Friday if they refuse to move off the streets. Volunteer outreach teams through the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust began placing individuals in shelters Tuesday morning and will continue those efforts through Thursday.

“By Friday morning it is my intention, those individuals who refuse to leave the streets for various reasons--almost all of which are mental health and or substance abuse-related--I would be moving to have those individuals Baker Acted,” said Ron Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust.

Rinsy Xieng / Twitter

While South Florida watches Hurricane Irma’s dangerous approach, the record storm already began tearing through the Caribbean Wednesday morning. But Irma’s path across the basin could help limit its destruction there.

The first to feel Irma’s fierce Category 5 winds were the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean. Gusts were clocked at 155 miles per hour at Antigua and Barbuda. Still, the storm’s center passed to the north, and officials said the island nation emerged better than expected.

Peter Haden / WLRN

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is making preparations in the state for Hurricane Irma.

“FEMA is pre-positioning people and supplies to be able to come in right after the hurricane,” Nelson said Wednesday at a press conference at the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center.

But due to the recovery from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the agency is set to run out of funds soon without an emergency funding authorization.

“If they don’t get it by Friday, they’re out of money,” Nelson said.

Kate Stein

An informal “emergency operations center” serving Miami-Dade and Broward counties is offering help for low-income, disabled and elderly people -- and it's seeking volunteers.

The Miami Climate Alliance, the CLEO Institute and the New Florida Majority are coordinating the grassroots effort to help people prepare for the storm and its aftermath. They’re taking calls and deploying volunteers to help board up windows and make other hurricane preparations. They’re also accepting donations of hurricane supplies.

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