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One of the most terrifying storms in years could hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands by Wednesday. Hurricane Irma is now a Category 5 storm with 185 mph Florida is watching to see whether Irma turns north and preparing for the worst. NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been more than a decade since South Florida was hit by a major hurricane. But as Irma approaches, for Floridians, complacency is not a problem. Supermarkets and home improvement stores were packed yesterday and again today as people pick up everything they can to help them prepare. Anna and Carlos Herrera arrived at the Home Depot in Pinecrest, south of Miami, with a long list of things they need.
ANNA HERRERA: Sand, batteries, anything that we can get for the hurricane - water.
CARLOS HERRERA: There's no more sand.
A. HERRERA: But there's nothing here. There's no sand. There's no water. There's no batteries. There's nothing.
ALLEN: After seeing what happened in Houston last week, the Herreras, like many, are concerned about the potential for flooding. Anna Herrera says they don't know yet whether they'll evacuate.
A. HERRERA: If it's Category 4, it scares us a lot.
C. HERRERA: Now it's 5.
A. HERRERA: Still, it's scary. You never know - you can never be too prepared. That's what we see.
ALLEN: Because of the threat of flooding from storm surge, if Miami is a target, areas along the coast will be evacuated before Irma hits. Miami-Dade County's mayor says he'll begin issuing evacuation orders as early as tomorrow night. In the Florida Keys, officials have already issued a mandatory evacuation for visitors beginning tomorrow. Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency yesterday and has asked President Trump to do the same.
A pre-landfall state of emergency would free up federal funding to help with protective measures like shoring up sand dunes. Although supplies of things like water and ice are running low with a possible Florida landfall still days away, retailers say they'll be restocking many of the goods in demand before the storm hits. At the Home Depot, Alan Marks says you get what you can.
ALAN MARKS: What I came to get and what I got - two different things. Everything's sold out.
ALLEN: Yeah. What did you want that you couldn't get?
MARKS: A generator. I knew I wasn't going to be able to get one of those because I looked online first. And the worst part is you can order everything online, but the delivery date's between the 11 and the 16.
ALLEN: That would be next week, days after forecasts show Hurricane Irma making landfall. Irma is tracking west but, at some point, is expected to take a sharp turn north. When Irma turns, Mark says, will determine which parts of Florida are most affected.
MARKS: I'm not a religious person. It's in God's hands.
ALLEN: In South Florida, hurricane awareness, preparations and worries are all informed by the region's experience 25 years ago with Hurricane Andrew, one of the few Category 5 storms ever to hit the U.S. mainland. For homeowners like Carlos Sanchez of Palmetto Bay, it's a constant point of reference.
CARLOS SANCHEZ: I'm about 500 yards from the water. Luckily, my house is 24 feet above sea level.
ALLEN: Sanchez says floodwaters from Andrew's storm surge only reached his driveway. The National Hurricane Center says Irma may be even more powerful. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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