MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. - Brevard County Emergency Management officials ordered more than 100,000 residents living on Merritt Island and along the coastal areas to leave their residences and condominiums and evacuate in preparation for Hurricane Irma’s arrival over the weekend.
Authorities also ordered shelters across Brevard County to open Friday afternoon in anticipation of residents wanting to leave their homes, flood prone areas along the Indian River and mobile home parks for more secure locations.
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The evacuations were set to begin 3 p.m. Friday, giving residents 24-hours to prepare ahead of Irma's anticipated arrival, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
“The shelters won’t open until Friday afternoon. We’ll have 20 shelters across Brevard. There will also be special-needs shelters, but we don’t announce where they are. And there will be transportation to help those with special needs to evacuate,” said Don Walker, spokesman for Brevard County Emergency Management.
“We are monitoring this storm. Now, if you look at the latest forecast, the track shows Irma coming right over Brevard. But that’s the latest forecast. Obviously, between now and the time we’ll begin feeling Irma’s impact, there will be 24 more forecasts. That, to me, is 24 more chances for this storm to move further to the east or to the west. But for now, the storm appears that it will pass right over Brevard,” he said.
Brevard County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tod Goodyear said residents will not face legal consequences if they don't choose to leave. Deputies will not be making door-to-door checks.
Hospitals are also on standby, for example, Cape Canaveral Hospital, which sits on the Banana River in Merritt Island and has at least 150 beds, could announce later Thursday whether to evacuate for Hurricane Irma.
“Were still waiting on EOC and officers to make their announcements,” Health First spokeswoman Shona Price Price told Florida Today.
Hurricane Irma’s deadly swath through the Caribbean continues as its eye wall shows signs of becoming a little less organized and as its winds sustained winds decrease slightly. It is still, however, a Category 5 hurricane with 180 mph winds with a path that could begin impact Brevard County weather with tropical force winds by late Saturday evening.
The key point to remember in planning for authorities and residents alike: a potentially catastrophic hurricane is bearing down on southern Florida and will likely have an impact on the Space Coast.
Weather forecasters say Irma will continue to feed off the warm waters of the Caribbean for the next three days, likely remaining a Category 5 or Category 4 storm before taking a dramatic turn toward the southern end of Florida, possibly making landfall near Miami.
Some computer models track the storm into the peninsula before spinning out from Central Florida into the nearby Atlantic. Other models keep it further to the east, although still having an impact on Florida by way of life-threatening winds, coastal storm surges or heavy rains.
In Brevard, preparations continue to batten down homes and to shore up infrastructure.
Jonnie Mckie was at the Merritt Island Home Depot Thursday making copies of her house keys, before she left the barrier island.
"I really don't know," she said. "All the roads are really jugged up so I'll probably be looking a way up the middle somewhere going through little towns or whatnot."
Mckie said she and her family are driving north Thursday night.
"I've ridden them out, but not this one," she Mckie said. "I live in a manufactured home and it's coming right over us according to the last track, so I'm out of here, bye."
Other Brevard residents, hardened by many hurricane season, said they are not leaving.
"I've lived in Florida my whole life," Hooper said. "I figured by the time it gets up here it's not going to be that big of a problem. As long as it's a 3 or less I'm not that worried about it."
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