Window for evacuation closing as danger of high winds increases

Time is running out.

The window for safely evacuating areas of Miami-Dade is closing as Hurricane Irma approaches Florida. Municipal services such as garbage pickup are mostly suspended. When the winds pick up Saturday to tropical storm speeds, first responders will no longer be able to safely rescue people who call 911.

Some city of Miami employees were still available late Friday afternoon, but for a limited time.

Solid waste workers were driving around the city picking up roadside garbage until 6 p.m., Mayor Tomás Regalado said. On Wednesday and Thursday, city crews made an average of 30,000 stops, he said, picking up 650 tons of debris.

People can still call 911, as emergency crews will run until winds reach tropical storm speeds of 40 miles per hour. City trolleys will run until the county stops transportation services.

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli said that people in the city’s evacuation zones should heed the order to leave because help won’t come if people have emergencies during the worst of the storm.

“Anybody who doesn’t want to leave is really risking his or her life and the life of their family,” Valdés-Fauli said. “When the wind goes up over 45 mph we cannot send rescue vehicles because we put those lives in danger too.”

Miami Beach and Key Biscayne sent out final evacuation notices to residents Friday afternoon.

“Condo dwellers need to understand that if you have storm surge, you will have no power, you will have no elevators. Safe places are always the stairwells — the concrete stairwells,” said Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press, according to Miami Herald news partner CBS4.

The causeways connecting the Key and Miami Beach to the mainland are open for westbound traffic. Beginning at 8 p.m. Friday, the drawbridges on the Venetian and 79th Street causeways will be locked down so vehicular traffic can travel and boats may not pass.

Once the storm passes, residents will have to wait for the city to deem the streets safe before crossing causeways and heading home.

Herald staff writer Lance Dixon contributed to this report.