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Nancy Klingener / WLRN

Key West has seen a lot of hurricanes over the years — but the island itself hasn't had a direct hit since 1919 (though there were a couple of near misses, with Hurricane Georges moving across the Lower Keys in 1998 and Wilma swamping the island from the west in 2005).

Some islanders attribute that string to the supernatural - the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto.

Dedicated in 1922 by the Catholic community in the Keys to honor Sister Louis Gabriel, the grotto is located next to what is now the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea. 

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

Hurricane Irma is still forecast to hit South Florida Sunday morning as a destructive Category 4 storm. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has ordered the largest mandatory evacuation for a hurricane in the county's history – some 660,000 people. And that also means South Florida’s largest-ever hurricane shelter response.

Gina Jordan/WLRN

Hundreds of people are housed in a large room with computer monitors and giant TV screens lining the walls overhead. Lots of people are on computers, and even more are walking around wearing navy emergency response team shirts. It’s a calm but busy Friday afternoon at the State Emergency Operations Center.

The center in Tallahassee is at its highest activation: Level 1

This post was updated on Sept. 10, 2017 at 10:46 a.m.  

As Hurricane Irma slams into the Florida Keys and brings hurricane-force winds and storm surges to South Florida, residents are hunkered down in emergency shelters. And while some shelters have closed their doors for the most dangerous storm conditions, you should still know what your evacuation zone is and where to go.

Jessica Bakeman / WLRN

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and locally elected officials urged south Floridians to obtain several days worth of food, water and medicine and finish fortifying their homes against Hurricane Irma by Friday evening, before strong winds are expected to arrive.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

The slight veer south in the projected track of Hurricane Irma led some Florida Keys holdouts to hit the road Friday.

The entire Florida Keys island chain has been under a mandatory evacuation order for residents since Wednesday evening.

Still, some residents are sticking it out. Including Kerry and Diane Shelby of Key West.

"The entire state of Florida's evacuating. So we looked at both options and it just looked a little too difficult to get out," Kerry Shelby said. "So we decided we were on the good side of the storm, we were going to stay here."

Florida Department of Corrections

The Florida Department Of Corrections has started evacuating some of their smaller facilities in South Florida.

While institutions are stocking up on more water and food supplies, some satellite facilities, community work release centers and work camps are evacuating to other DOC facilities. As of Thursday, 5400 inmates had been evacuated according to Michelle Glady, director of communications for the DOC.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Lake Okeechobee is currently at 13.7 feet, which is a slight increase over the course of the week, despite days of water releases into the estuaries surrounding the lake.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not at this point believe the aging Hoover Dike is at risk of breach, there are three places where they expect significant amount of water to splash over and potentially stream over the top of those sites.

Are You In An Evacuation Zone? Here Is How To Know

Sep 8, 2017

As the possibilities of hurricane Irma hitting South Florida increase, authorities are encouraging residents to prepare for a possible landfall. Part of the preparations includes knowing if you live in an evacuation zone and making plans in case you are asked to leave your home. Here is how to know, for all four south Florida counties: Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach.  

Get the latest information about Hurricane Irma at WLRN.org/weather

Traffic jams across the state trapped evacuees for hours Thursday, but Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) chief spokesman Captain Jeffrey Bassainthe says his agency has enough personnel to do the job.

“Well we have over 1,700 troopers staffed, so like I said, all personnel, office personnel, are out of the office, days off have been cancelled and we’re working 12-hour shifts," said Bassainthe. "We want to ensure that we have maximum staffing and that we’re out there to assist the public into helping them get there safely.”

Update: 9/10/17: Gulf, Madison, Taylor and Wakulla County Schools have announced extended closures. FAMU, FSU and TCC will remain closed through Friday.

Original Story: Public schools, colleges and universities will be closed starting Friday through Monday, says Gov. Rick Scott. A change in Hurricane Irma's forecasted path has prompted the closures which is in effect for schools across the state. Some colleges, universities and school districts have announced longer closures.

Most Florida Flood Zone Property Not Insured

Sep 8, 2017

As Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, an Associated Press analysis shows a steep drop in flood insurance across the state, including the areas most endangered by what could be a devastating storm surge.

In just five years, the state's total number of federal flood insurance policies has fallen by 15 percent, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency data.

Florida's property owners still buy far more federal flood insurance than any other state — 1.7 million policies, covering about $42 billion in assets — but most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed.

Hurricane Irma evacuations now involve more than South Florida residents taking to the roads.

The 6th Air Mobility Wing at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base is temporarily evacuating its KC-135 refueling planes to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.

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.

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