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When Alex Maldonado and his family fled Kendall for Atlanta on Thursday before Hurricane Irma’s landfall, they packed like they might not see their home again — bringing clothing, jewelry, their toy maltese Nieves, even a 3-by-5-foot framed Jose Fernandez signed jersey.
But even though Hurricane Irma is now projected to move up along Florida’s Gulf Coast with Atlanta in its sights, Maldonado, 22, said he, his parents and his two teenage brothers are still relieved to be farther north.
“Right now we’re just happy we got out of Kendall. Even if it does get to us, it’s probably not going to be as strong,” he said. “Even if it hits Atlanta as a Cat 4, we’re probably going to be all right.”
Forecasters are still uncertain where Irma will make landfall in Florida, though its current trajectory suggests its center could carry it near Tampa Bay. As the storm moves inland and weakens dramatically, it could still affect a wide band of the South, including Atlanta, with tropical storm winds that could threaten tornadoes.
FEMA administrator William “Brock” Long warned that Irma would “devastate the United States” and urged people throughout the southeast from Alabama to North Carolina to prepare for its landfall.
For the Maldonado family, that meant packing their bags and leaving the Kendall home they’ve lived in since 1999. But making their escape on the road out of the Miami area was a “killer,” Maldonado said, with hotels booked throughout the state and roads clogged for hours. The typical 10-hour drive to Atlanta from their home stretched to 26 as people farther north of them piled onto the interstate in droves.
The family also called 30 different hotels before they found a $120-a-night room in Atlanta, Maldonado said. Their hope is to start making the slow drive back through South Carolina toward Miami again when the storm blows through. But Irma’s changing path does mean the Maldonados don’t know when they’ll be able to return home – or what condition it will be in.
“We’re hoping that by Monday night, maybe Tuesday morning it’s safe enough to start heading down,” Maldonado said “It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen if the hurricane keeps moving through the northern part of Florida.”