Florida Keys Ordered Evacuated for Hurricane Rita

Rita is only a tropical storm at this point, but officials are taking no chances, ordering the 40,000 residents of the lower Florida Keys to evacuate.

Hurricane Warnings Posted for Florida Keys (AP)

Officials ordered residents evacuated from the lower Florida Keys on Monday as a strengthening Tropical Storm Rita headed toward the island chain, threatening to grow into a hurricane with a potential 8-foot storm surge. The evacuation covered 40,000 people living from below Marathon to Key West. Visitors were ordered to clear out of the entire length of the low-lying Keys, which are connected by just one highway.

The weather was clear Monday morning but expected to deteriorate through the day with the approach of Rita’s outermost bands of rain. Hurricane warnings were posted for the Keys and Miami-Dade County, and the storm’s eye was expected to pass between the islands and Cuba on Tuesday.

Rita, which strengthened Sunday into a tropical storm, had sustained wind of 65 mph by late morning, up from 60 mph earlier in the day, and could be a Category 1 hurricane by the time it passes the Keys, the National Hurricane Center said. By the weekend, computer models projected that it could be in the northwest Gulf of Mexico near Texas, but people in areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina were warned it could veer in their direction instead. Katrina crossed South Florida into the Gulf last month, killing 11 people, before it turned northward to Louisiana and Mississippi.

In the wake of Katrina, this cautious approach is to be expected. Unfortunately, we will likely see several needless evacuations and a quick restoration of the pre-Katrina “boy who cried wolf” attitude on the part of coastal residents.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Val Prieto says:

    This is SOP here in South Florida and has little or nothing to do with the devastation by Katrina up north. Getting hit by 2, 3 and sometimes 4 or 5 hurricanes a year ensures that outr local and state officials are prepared. Beforehand.

  2. Pug says:

    The National Weather Service has this one tracking straight for Houston. Get your gas now, while you still can.

  3. Josh Cohen says:

    The evacuation thing happens every time. It’s the same process. When I lived in SFL, we didn’t really believe Andrew would hit us. I was at the gym with my dad that morning, and when we got home, we decided we should put up some wood or something. We spent the night in the hallway on the lawn furniture, listening to WIOD.

    The next spring, we had a shutter system installed. And we put it up whenever we thought a big storm was coming.

    Fast-forward to Katrina. The only shutters my parents put up were on the big windows at the back of the house. Of course, it didn’t hit SFL quite that badly, but still.

    I think the 24-hour news cycle is at fault. When we get saturated with the news, we get inured to it more quickly, and we forget more easily.