Key West residents evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma

KEY WEST, FLA. (WSVN) - Thousands of Key West residents are on the move ahead of a possible direct strike by Hurricane Irma.

“This is the first time I’ve really been really scared,” said one woman.

Both tourists and residents were told to clear out as of Wednesday evening.

“I think everybody needs to leave. Pretty sure. We’re leaving at, like, 5 o’clock in the morning,” said one resident who left Wednesday morning.

Worried about flooding, some residents chose to leave their cars high up on an overpass.

Businesses on Duval Street prepared for the storm as well, boarding up windows and positioning homemade sandbags outside doors to prevent flooding.

The state lifted tolls on highways, Tuesday, to help those escaping Irma.

Drivers hit U.S. 1, forming a steady stream of cars northbound, Wednesday.

Gas lines remained long as people fueled up their vehicles ahead of the storm.

“[Gas tank] was empty. I was initially going to stay; however, I have a home in Orlando that I need to protect as well, so I’m going to head North,” said another resident.

Along with many tourists, a married couple had to cut their trip short so they could flee to safety.

Rodney and Keisha Lawson hoped to celebrate their sixth anniversary in the Keys but are were forced to leave three days early.

“I’m upset about it,” said Rodney, “so where do we go?”

The couple managed to get a flight out early Wednesday morning at the Key West International Airport, which is scheduled to close down Thursday. Only two last-minute flights have been scheduled to depart Thursday.

“I’m sad because I’ve been trying to get to Key West for years, but I’d rather be alive than, you know,” said Rodney. “If it’s dangerous we have to go, but I’m upset about it.”

About 5,000 personnel from the Key West Naval Air Station were also told to evacuate because, according to emergency managers, the best course of action is to leave.

A C-130 plane arrived to Key West, Wednesday, for an important mission to evacuate some of the most vulnerable to Irma.

“The folks that can’t be discharged home, they’re sick. They’re in the hospital for a reason, so we gotta get them to that same level of care, out of harm’s way,” said Lt. Col. Charles Scronce of the North Carolina National Guard.

Patients from the Lower East Medical Center were flown to a medical center in Alabama.

“We can provide that level of care in the airplane, you know? We have all the monitors and the machines that we need to monitor patients,” said Scronce.

Mariners Hospital and Fishermen’s Community Hospital will also be closed by Friday morning.

Monroe County schools are closed until further notice.

Still, not everyone is fleeing Irma just yet.

“I don’t wanna panic,” said Key West resident Kelly Jones, “and I love the island, and I don’t wanna, like, leave too soon because, I mean, this is our home.”

In Key West, locals said they may be fun-loving, but they’re not reckless.

“If you’ll look around, everybody is prepared, but we’re watching,” said Key West resident Jim Cole.

Two shelters will be set up on Thursday on the south end of Miami-Dade County to serve residents of Monroe County. Those shelters will be located at the Miami-Dade Fairgrounds and Florida International University.

Those evacuating the county can obtain a decal from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office sub-stations. The decals will allow for a smoother process as people return to their homes once the hurricane passes.

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