Monroe County, home of the Florida Keys, which were evacuated in anticipation of mega-storm Hurricane Irma, has told evacuees not to return to the islands “until further notice,” adding that “Monroe County is closed” due to damage suffered from the Category 4 hurricane.
The Keys, a popular vacation destination for tourists, are an archipelago located in the shallow waters off the coast of southern Florida.
Hurricane Irma made landfall in the county on Sunday morning; the eye of the storm passed over Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m. and winds reached maximum speeds of 130 mph. The Keys are expected to get up to 20 inches of rain, and officials are warning that storm surges could reach up to 10 feet.
“Most of this island chain is only three to five feet above sea level. With the surges we’re expecting this is not the place to be,” Monroe County Emergency Operations Center Directer Martin Senterfitt told CBS Miami.
Monroe County issued mandatory evacuation orders for all residents and declared a State of Local Emergency on Tuesday, September 12. The county website directs evacuees to the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition in the event of a Category 3 or stronger hurricane, one of many shelters in the region that has opened to house the nearly 700,000 people who have fled from the storm.
Despite the evacuation orders, some residents of the Keys chose to stay behind and weather the storm.
“All my family’s ashes are in Key West, so I’m staying,” Floridian John Hines told CNN by phone on Sunday morning as gale-force winds howled in the background. William South, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in the Keys, wrote in the Washington Post last week that he and his colleagues chose to stay behind in order to monitor the storm, issue warnings and “save lives.”
Indeed, South and his team are actively tweeting updates from their storm bunker. NWS Key West warned residents on Sunday that storm surge flooding had already risen above 3 feet, and may reach up to 10 feet in Cudjoe Key, where Hurricane Irma’s eye made landfall.