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Florida Highways Are Jammed As People Try To Escape Irma


For days now, Florida has been preparing for the worst with Hurricane Irma. Updated forecasts have downgraded this storm from Category 5 to Category 4, but that still involves sustained winds of 155 miles an hour. And satellite imaging - it's incredible. It shows Hurricane Irma is larger and broader than the entire state of Florida itself. Close to a million people are now under evacuation orders in the state.

BILL DUCLO: The storm is going to be pretty bad. So we want to get out while the going's good. We're going to be stuck down here with no provisions. So we want to get out while the going's good. And I got my whole family, my whole crew here. We're going to Georgia.

GREENE: That is Bill Duclo (ph), who's evacuating with his family from Key West. I want to bring in NPR's Greg Allen, who is on the line from Miami. Greg, good morning.


GREENE: So it sounds like people are taking this very seriously. With this many people on the move, though, and under evacuation orders, I mean, I can imagine the potential for a mess on highways and interstates. Has this been smooth so far?

ALLEN: No way, it really was very tight yesterday. I mean, we've got this fuel-shortage problem, you know, as everyone's gassed up. And the interstates were just packed yesterday. Trips that usually take an hour were taking five hours. Today will be the last day for people to evacuate. And so you can expect more of the same today.

GREENE: So you say fuel shortages, I mean, this means when you see a gas station that's open and actually has fuel, you should fill up when you can.

ALLEN: Well, you know which gas stations are open because there's long lines there, you know. People sometimes stop at gas stations where, you know, deliveries are scheduled. So yeah, it's not hard to find - figure out who has the gas, just if you have the time to wait for it.

GREENE: So there's so much to ask you about in terms of the potential impact of this - I mean, lives and damage to property and so forth, wind damage, I mean, also power outages, which sound like they could last for a long time with this storm.

ALLEN: Right, some researchers have come up with an estimate that says that as many as 3.4 million Floridians will lose their power in Irma. So we're looking at a lot. Florida Power and Light is - hasn't come up with their own estimate yet that I know of. But they say they've got 11,000 workers ready to go out and start restoring power. They spent $3 billion in recent years hardening its system. But despite all that, they say that power is likely to be out for weeks or months. They're worried that actually it will destroy some infrastructure that will require rebuilding. So it's not just restoring power. It'll be rebuilding it.

One issue that's of some importance is the nuclear plant down in Turkey Point, they call it. It's down south of Miami, right in the path of the hurricane. That will be shut down. We don't know - they - they're kind of cagey about what - when shutdown procedures start. But they say they'll do it with plenty of time to be - do it safely. And that should be probably later today than we think.

GREENE: And if the storm stays on course, what's the timing for hitting Florida?

ALLEN: Well, right now, it's on this westward path. And it will start turning on Saturday - we think Saturday evening. We'll start feeling the effects late Saturday. And we expect the storm will be arriving here sometime on Sunday.

GREENE: All right, we'll be thinking of you and all the residents of that state in the coming hours and days. NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Greg, thanks.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.