Miami-Dade orders coastal evacuation as Hurricane Irma threatens

More than 100,000 Miami-Dade residents were ordered to leave their homes on barrier islands and low-lying mainland areas Thursday in preparation for Hurricane Irma, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Wednesday evening.

Evacuation orders were issued for Miami-Dade’s barrier islands, including Miami Beach and Key Biscayne, and other coastal areas in south Dade and in parts of Miami and areas north. The areas are considered particularly vulnerable to storm surge.

The orders apply to county Zone A, which covers Key Biscayne and coastal areas of Southeast Miami-Dade and north of Miami, and to only the barrier islands of Zone B. The orders take effect at 9 a.m. Thursday.

“Irma remains a strong Category 5 hurricane,” Gimenez said at a news briefing in the county’s emergency center in Doral. “Significant weakening is not expected.”

While Zone B includes Brickell Avenue and other mainland areas, Gimenez limited the order to that zone’s barrier islands, between Biscayne Bay and the ocean. But he warned future orders may be broader and affect more zones, including the rest of Zone B not on the islands.

In his remarks, Gimenez listed these cities as being the areas in Zone B targeted by his order: Bal Harbour, Bay Harbour Islands, Biscayne Park, Golden Beach, Indian Creek Village, Miami Beach, North Bay Village, Sunny Isles Beach and Surfside.

Under the orders, residents are asked to leave voluntarily ahead of expected coastal flooding that will prevent emergency services from reaching those areas during the storm. “Nobody will be forcing you to leave your homes,” Gimenez said. But should something go wrong during the storm in an evacuation zone, storm surge and flooding could prevent emergency workers from reaching people who decide to stay.

The last time Miami-Dade ordered evacuations in such a large area was 12 years ago.

Gimenez waited until two hours after the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. Irma advisory to issue the orders. Earlier in the day, he’d held off on them, noting that the storm had slowed down and given forecasters a little more time to figure out where Irma might land.

Miami-Dade joins Broward County, which ordered evacuations to begin at noon Thursday for residents in coastal and low-lying areas and mobile homes, and Monroe County, which ordered tourists to leave Wednesday and residents Thursday.

This developing story will be updated.