Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Evacuate but Stay Close, Say Officials Worried about Gridlock

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Evacuate but Stay Close, Say Officials Worried about Gridlock

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson & Drew Dixon

With interstates crowded with evacuating Floridians, authorities tried Friday to get people who can't stay at home to hunker down at shelters close by.

"You do not need to drive hundreds of miles to be safe," Gov. Rick Scott said. "Find shelters in your county."

Jacksonville opened 12 shelters Friday morning, as Mayor Lenny Curry issued evacuation orders affecting about 250,00 people.

Scott said he was "glad to see so many people driving to a safe place," and told the ones stuck in slow traffic to stay calm.

"I'm sure it's very frustrating. But please be patient," he said.

Some Jacksonville hotels were booked solid with evacuees from South Florida, but there were also visitors there waiting for the storm.

At the Hampton Inn on the Southbank, where evacuees were shuttling luggage into their rooms, about 28 workers from a Newport, Tenn., tree removal service had reserved rooms through next week to work on cleanup following the storm.

There's been a steady stream of South Florida guests for the past two days, and there's no vacancy left, said front desk supervisor Olivia Pringle.

"It's just been phones ringing, guests and questions and a lot of that," Pringle said.

Robert Nerlinger and his family left North Miami Beach in the middle of the night because it's only 3 miles from the coast and the roof on his home has mold in it. He said he's not comfortable it would hold once Irma strikes.

"We left at 2 a.m. [Friday] and got here at 10:30 a.m.," Nerlinger said. "Traffic was actually pretty light."

Parked outside the hotel were 10 bucket trucks and three pickup trucks from the Tennessee company that JEA had contracted with to remove fallen trees after Irma moves through.

"It's a task coming down the interstate from Tennessee," said Michael Ramsey, a general foreman for the Trees LLC. "We had to keep all the crews together and not get anyone lost ... . Everybody's evacuating and we're coming in. …

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