Governor Rick Scott urged Southwest Florida residents to heed mandatory evacuation orders after being briefed at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center on Friday. Scott emphasized the deadliness of Hurricane Irma and the need for citizens to seek shelter.
“Based on what we now know, the majority of Florida will have major hurricane impacts with deadly storm surge and life-threatening winds,” said Scott. “Here in Lee County and Southwest Florida there is a danger of life-threatening storm surge impacts over the next 36 hours. The threat of significant storm surge flooding across the southwest coast of Florida has increased, 6 to 12 feet above ground.”
Lee and Collier Counties have expanded mandatory evacuation zones to include all of the barrier islands, much of Cape Coral, and most areas west or south of U.S 41.
Those who intend to leave the area completely should do so immediately. The governor said that if residents have not left by midnight, they should not get on the road and should instead seek shelter. Scott also urged those who are in evacuation zones to value safety over property or convenience.
“Possessions can be replaced, your life and your family can not,” Scott said. “Evacuations are not convenient, they are meant to keep you safe.”
The state has authorized the use of shoulders from Wildwood (exit 329) to the Georgia line in order to ease congestion along the evacuation route. Real time traffic and evacuation route information are available at https://fl511.com . Those who are unable to evacuate due to traffic or any other reason can call the Florida Emergency Hotline at 1-800-342-3557 for assistance, but should do so immediately.
Fuel shortages have been reported at many gas stations along evacuation routes. According to Scott, law enforcement is escorting tanker trucks to stations so they can speed refueling. He encouraged gas stations to stay open as long as possible in order to allow residents to acquire the fuel they need to evacuate.
Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said that his deputies are in place to deal with safety in the aftermath of the storm, but the unprecedented size of Irma means that law enforcement from other areas would likely be unable to immediately offer assistance.
“Because of the nature of this storm and the way it is expected to impact the entirety of the state versus a specific region, it has crippled… to an extent what we are typically able to do in terms of committing resources to other areas,” said Sheriff Scott.
The sheriff also addressed concerns about post-storm looting, saying that his department already planned to have a dedicated taskforce in the field to protect areas more likely to be targeted by looters.
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