The government’s biggest challenge in responding to Hurricane Irma may not be its strength as much as its size.
Federal, state, and local officials had been preparing for more than a week before the storm made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane over the Florida Keys on Sunday morning and shot north toward Naples and St. Petersburg. They ordered more than 7 million Floridians to evacuate their homes, and Governor Rick Scott said he called up 7,000 members of the National Guard and opened 400 shelters in anticipation of a devastating hit.
But officials warned that Irma’s enormous size, spanning hundreds of miles and covering the entirety of Florida’s southern peninsula, could slow rescue and recovery efforts once the storm passes up the state’s gulf coast. “This is like Andrew for our whole state,” Scott, a Republican, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday morning, referring to the Category 5 hurricane that hit the Bahamas and southeast Florida in 1992 and became, at that point, the costliest storm in U.S. history.
Ordinarily, the governor said the state would position assets on one coast to be able to quickly deploy to the other once a storm hits. But because Irma is so wide and is lashing Miami and other cities on the eastern coast with hurricane-force winds as well, Scott said most responders will have to travel south from northern Florida and even out of state. “So it’s going to take us a little bit longer, though, to do everything we care to do after a storm,” Scott said.