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.
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.