Yikes: Florida Keys look to end up entirely under water after Irma's imminent arrival

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Wednesday September 06th, 2017

People who haven't evacuated for anything in more than 50 years are high-tailing it out of there, and Miami-Dade, as the storm of the century closes in.

I wonder if reports of 185-mile-per-hour winds sound so far outside the realm of understanding for people that they don't even register. You understand, say, 30 MPH winds. That's a pretty windy day. Gusts of 60 and you're making sure you didn't leave the patio umbrella open because it's going to blow over.

But 185? That's like a zillion dollars. It's so far beyond anything you'd actually experience that you just chalk it up to unreality. But it's coming, as is the rain. And while Floridians yield to no one in their preparation to withstand a hurricane, Irma appears to be a very different kind of beast. And even the heartiest of souls aren't going to try to ride this one out:

Hurricane Irma is expected to make a sharp turn toward Florida this weekend. Hurricane Wilma, 12 years ago, was the last big storm to hit Florida head-on. That Category 3 hurricane killed 23 people and caused around $20 billion in damage.While Irma is threatening all of the state, the low-lying islands of the Florida Keys could be swamped by a catastrophic storm surge.

Mandatory evacuations for tourists in the Florida Keys began Wednesday morning while evacuations for residents begins Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. There is only one road out of the Florida Keys, and traffic is backed up for miles.

"For the Florida Keys, if you were going to create the worst case scenario, that is what we are looking at," said Monroe County Emergency Management director Martin Senterfitt. 

Elizabeth Prieto lives in the Keys. She is evacuating for the first time in 51 years.   

"I've been through George, I've been through Andrew, and I've been through Wilma. But I'm not staying for Irma. No, not happening," Prieto said. 

As Hurricane Irma sets its sights on South Florida, officials in the Keys are sounding the alarm.

"We're emphatically telling people you must evacuate, you cannot afford to stay on an island with a Category 5 hurricane coming at you," Senterfitt said. 

Many are listening. People are boarding up their homes and businesses, filling up their gas tanks and getting out of town.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott also issued several urgent warnings Tuesday.

"Storm surge and extreme winds are the biggest concern right now," Scott said.

Storm surge is especially a concern in the Keys, which are, on average, about six feet above sea level. The surge during Hurricane Irma has potential to be more than nine feet high.

"We could be looking at wave heights that could literally put the ocean over the islands," Senterfitt warned.

If you've ever been to the Keys, you realize just how vulnerable they are to a surge like we're anticipating from Irma. A nine-foot surge is very high and very unusual, but given a strong enough storm it's certainly possible. I'm kind of amazed this hasn't happened to the keys before.

Surges are just that, of course, and they subside eventually. But the question is how much damage they can do to land and property in the meantime. And if you're still on the island when the surge happens, there's No option at that point of getting to higher ground. There's nowhere you can go, and there'd be no way to get there if there was. You're basically stranded in the middle of the ocean, and even if you have a boat, the seas are going to be . . . quite rough.

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Miami isn't in quite as much jeopardy, but it's in for a very rough ride. State authorities are emphasizing that the best-case scenario is to have as few people there as possible when Irma arrives.

I wonder how much the reality in Houston is causing people to see the danger of Irma in a different light. It's easy to say you're going to stay put and ride out the storm when you've done it many times before and you ended up fine. When you're watching news reports of Houston underwater and you realize the extent of the devastation there, maybe it makes you think - even if you're a long-time Floridian and hurricanes are not new to you.

Irma isn't your average hurricane. Not by a long shot.

Pray, and be safe everyone.

Dan's new novel, BACKSTOP, is a story of spiritual warfare and baseball. Download it from Amazon here!