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Florida Keys Brace For Hurricane Irma


The Florida Keys are directly in the path of Hurricane Irma. Thousands are fleeing before its expected landfall tomorrow. Governor Rick Scott has urged all residents to get out as soon as they can.


RICK SCOTT: Experts report that the Keys are heavily evacuated. All gas station in the Keys are currently closed. But if you're still in the Keys, get out now. We will quickly run out of good weather to evacuate.

SIMON: David Ovalle is a reporter for The Miami Herald. He's in Key West. Mr. Ovalle, thanks for being with us. You're the only person left.

DAVID OVALLE: Yes. as far as I could see. I haven't seen any other media. Also one of our news partners with our local NPR station - one of our reporters is with us, Nancy Klingener. And yeah, all the TV live news trucks - they left.

SIMON: Well, thank her for us. Thank her for us.

OVALLE: Yes, yes.

SIMON: Well, you guys have jobs to do. And we certainly hope you're safe. Has anybody stayed on? And why would they?

OVALLE: A lot of people have stayed on. In fact, as I'm speaking to you, I'm outside the shelter of last resort in Key West, at Key West High. And there's hundreds of people here. And a lot of them are people who just thought they could ride it out and then saw the weather forecast and decided, you know, there's nowhere else to go. And a lot of these people are people of low income. You know, they don't have cars. People are coming barefoot. People are coming on bicycles with garbage bags - a lot of people with dogs...

SIMON: Yeah.

OVALLE: ...Who, you know, didn't feel they could leave. And so, you know, there's a, you know, a population of modest-income people here that just don't have the means to flee or didn't think they did.

SIMON: Yeah. And is the shelter prepared? I mean, do they have food, water? Are the windows safe?

OVALLE: Yes. This is - Key West High is built to resist a Category 5. You know, it's relatively high up. The storm surge, of course, is going to be a big issue. But yes, they're pretty well-prepared. You know, in Florida, we have a lot of storms, obviously. And - none quite like this, but I think we've been through the drill enough that most of the people here in emergency management know what to do and know how to prepare.

SIMON: We keep hearing - and we saw recently in Harvey - that the really tough hours and days might come after the storm moves on with storm surge, with flooding, with lack of power, as people run out of food and patience. What kind of preparations are being made for that? Can you tell?

OVALLE: Well, I can tell you that, you know, the emergency managers - they've, you know, for the county anyways, have left the area because they don't want to be cut off in case of the roads going out. But yeah, I mean, it's going to be a lot of - you know, a lot of people here have brought water and food and are just hoping that they can survive in the days afterward because, you know, the Keys could be cut off depending on how bad the roads are damaged. So it's going to be trying.

SIMON: There's just one way in and out of the Keys, isn't there?

OVALLE: Well, yes. On the road, there's just one way, the Overseas Highway. Of course, I'm sure they'll probably be some sort of air relief, if necessary. But, you know, people can't count on that. So it's going to be a tough slog for a lot of the people who are left, and there's a sizable amount of people.

SIMON: And you and our local station colleague are there for the duration?

OVALLE: Yes, yeah, against the best wishes of my family. But yeah, I think it's important for us to be here. And, you know, Key West is a vital part of Florida history and a vital place in South Florida. So we think it's only fair. If everyone else is going to ride it out, why shouldn't we?

SIMON: David Ovalle of The Miami Herald, thanks so much for being with us. Good luck, sir.

OVALLE: Thank you. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.