As Hurricane Irma hurtles toward South Florida, Miami residents are battling scarce resources and hours-long lines for basic provisions.
The powerful storm, which devastated swaths of the Caribbean and is projected to make landfall in Florida Saturday night with potentially record-setting winds, has prompted mass evacuations in the Sunshine State. Residents who are staying put are grimly bracing for the unpredictable.
“It’s like locusts came through,” said Christina Jimenez, a mother of two who had hoped to do some last minute shopping at a Miami-area CVS. She gestured to the ravaged shelves of a food aisle, where two lonely bags of marshmallows huddled with a sack of dried beans. “You can’t get anything anymore. It’s all gone.”
Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center, was dire in his warnings to Floridians.
"This is a storm that will kill you if you don't get out of the way," he told the Associated Press. "Everybody's going to feel this one."
Like most supermarkets, pharmacies and big-box stores in central Miami, the CVS had sold out of gas cans, water, matches, phone chargers and food that can be consumed without heat or electricity. Several ATMs, including those attached to a Citibank, had no cash to offer. Gas stations were either closed or cordoned off with construction cones to indicate there was no more fuel available.
At 10 p.m. on Thursday, Lara Alvarez pulled into a local Marathon Mart, its pumps draped with yellow caution tape, to ask the attendant when he expected a shipment the next day. “Not early,” the attendant replied though bulletproof glass. “Maybe if you show up midday, but even then…” His voice trailed off.
Alvarez called her husband. She’d tried to fill up at nine separate gas stations that night, and was driving home with only a quarter-tank. “We’re nervous,” she said.
Less than a mile away, roughly 2,000 people had spent the day lined up at Shell Lumber and Hardware for plywood with which to cover their windows and doors. At one point, the line stretched nearly all the way down the block, according to Danny Blanco, 27, who was directing traffic. The average wait for plywood was six hours on Thursday, he added.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Blanco said. “We’re moving as fast as we can, probably selling 10,000 sheets of plywood a day, but it’s not enough.” The company received rushed shipments of plywood from Orlando earlier that week, but already it was almost depleted. The store was out of water containers, gas cans and generators too.
Late Thursday night, Ricardo Rico, a local handyman and contractor who remembers the scale of destruction after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, delivered four sheets of plywood to a young woman’s home in central Miami. It was his twelfth delivery of the day and he still had seven more to do.
“It’s a badass hurricane,” he said of Irma. “Believe me, people have no idea. People here don’t remember [Andrew], so they don’t know. It’s going to be bigger, and it’s going to be bad, it’s going to be—.” He threw his arms out to the side to mimic a neighborhood flattened.
Miami, Rico said, is built on limestone, so the devastation will be different than it was in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. He looked up at a stand of oaks lining the block. “Their roots can’t go down, so they go out,” he said. “These will all fall.”
Leonardo and Anays Arrocha, who had waited in line for plywood for three hours on Thursday, said they were grateful to have a plan. They would go back to their modest apartment, board up the windows, and hunker down for as long as it took.
“I’m a little nervous,” said Anays. But Leonardo shook his head.
“We are ok. We are Cuban,” he said. “So we have already lived a lot.”