The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has issued a severe Hurricane Irma warning to residents of Florida and Georgia. Irma has now been downgraded to a Category 4 hurricane, but the NHC is referring to Irma as an "extremely dangerous" and "life-threatening" hurricane and accompanying storm surge that will heavily impact Florida, the Florida Keys, and likely some parts of Georgia. Airbnb Florida has activated their Disaster Response Program and is opening their doors and hotel rooms for free to Florida and Georgia evacuees, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
Further shelters and free hotels are available for Florida and Georgia evacuees. Global News reports that Hurricane Irma has already left 14 dead in its wake, after sweeping through the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center tracking Hurricane Irma reports that hurricane conditions are expected through Saturday to Cuba, the Cuban Keys, Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Severe and "extremely dangerous" conditions are expected to hit Florida by Saturday night, reports the NHC in the following statement.
"Hurricane Irma is an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane and will continue to bring life threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards to the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas through Saturday. Severe hurricane conditions are expected over portions of the Florida peninsula and the Florida Keys beginning Saturday night. Irma is likely to make landfall in southern Florida as a dangerous major hurricane, and bring life-threatening storm surge and wind impacts to much of the state."
The NHC notes the storm surge warning is in effect for the next 36 hours, through to early Sunday morning. It is described repeatedly by the NHC as a "life-threatening situation." The NHC is strongly cautioning all residents of inhabited areas to evacuate and heed the calls of authorities.
The NHC also predicts damage to South Carolina and Georgia but says it's too early to tell at this time the magnitude and location of those impacts. Express reports that Miami-Dade County alone is home to over 1.9 million people.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that evacuees from Florida can now take advantage of free shelter through the Airbnb Florida portal. This is a vacation rental marketplace offering a safe space to those needing temporary shelter during Hurricane Irma.
Airbnb Florida has activated their Disaster Response Program, which offers this free service to those that are fleeing Hurricane Irma, as well as first responders. Rentals made through the portal will be free of charge. Decatur County, Grady County, and Thomas County in the state of Georgia are also currently eligible to participate in this program.
Airbnb Florida has a dedicated website for Hurricane Irma evacuees. An Airbnb spokesperson says that the rooms will be available free of charge until September 28, and evacuees must book through that portal in order to ensure they are not charged. Hosts are also listing their homes at Airbnb to help during Hurricane Irma, so if evacuees find there are no bookings available, they are urged to keep checking to see if a host becomes available.
The typical markings that a hurricane is on its way have already started cropping up all over the state of Florida. Long gas lines and gas outages are already being reported as a significant problem as Florida evacuees hit the road. CBS News reports that Florida Governor Rick Scott has announced that gas shortages will be met with an armed response team, and fuel trucks will be riding the evacuee routes to assist with stranded vehicles.
"To further expedite fuel delivery, I have directed state police to escort fuel trucks to gas stations along evacuation routes. For gas stations in evacuation zones: We need you to stay open as long as possible so people can get out. We will arrange police escorts for your employees so they can get out safely."
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal has issued a state of emergency and also a mandatory evacuation for areas east of Interstate 95 along with Chatham County reports 11 Alive News. Multiple evacuation shelters are available for those unable to leave their county.
West Point Lake is opening the Holiday camp in LaGrange, Georgia, for Hurricane Irma evacuees. Evacuees are asked to call 706-884-6818 to reserve a spot, and identification of residence will be required for entry. The Atlanta Motor Speedway is also opening its doors for free camping and providing free hot showers and restrooms at the Rinnai Shower Station.
For Americans, Canadians, or any travelers visiting Florida or Georgia, spaces and accommodations are available through Georgia Tourism that is offering 11 Visitor Information Centers located off any of the major interstates. Travelers can also call 1-800-VISIT-GA for additional assistance or visit ExploreGeorgia.org.
The Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter is also offering shelter as an equine evacuation site for large animals needing shelter during Hurricane Irma. No reservations are being accepted and stalls will be open on a first come, first served basis. Owners will be responsible for all feed, hay, and tack to care for their animals.
Talladega Speedway is also offering campgrounds to those evacuating from or to Georgia. The American Red Cross has shelters available in multiple locations in Georgia, including the Delores Brooks Recreation Center on Ocmulgee E. Blvd. in Macon County, reports WSB-TV Atlanta.
WSB-TV Atlanta also has a list of mosques that are offering shelter in Georgia. They will serve not only as shelters but also donation distribution sites. Registration to stay at the shelter must be done in advance, with registrations opening after 2:45 p.m. Eastern Standard Time today.
Heavy.com reports an additional list of Irma shelters available in Florida. The Marion County Sheriff's Department wrote Thursday evening that shelters are opening today (Friday) at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Local public schools in most Florida counties are closed Friday and Monday. Many will be serving as a shelter during Hurricane Irma. Most Florida counties will also be maintaining a police presence at all official Hurricane Irma shelters.
Citizens with an outstanding warrant are being advised not to expect shelter at an official shelter but will be redirected to the Marion County Jail or respective county jail for shelter if they arrive and are currently under warrant. Registered sex offenders will also be redirected to local jails for shelter during Hurricane Irma, and are being asked to report there for shelter in Marion County.
The "General Population" shelters in Marion County are public schools and will open at 5 p.m. today. They are North Marion Middle School, Fort McCoy School, and Lake Weir High School. A hotline has been established for special needs, and those with special needs can contact the Citizens Information Line at 352-369-7500 to arrange for shelter transportation to either Belleview Middle School or West Port High School.
The pet-friendly shelter in Marion County is Vanguard High School.
Florida and Georgia residents evacuating from the storm are being advised to check the local Facebook pages of their county sheriff's where additional assistance or instructions may be provided.
CNN reports that the United States military has responded to Hurricane Irma providing relief in St. Thomas and St. Croix. Many service members are still deployed to assist with Hurricane Harvey, but the Pentagon has mobilized a "variety of resources" to assist in Hurricane Irma relief.
In a separate report, Global News reports that Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada has noted that Canada will "always stand ready to assist" in Hurricane Irma relief. Canada sent thousands of supplies during Hurricane Katrina and reportedly assisted over 24,000 people in Hurricane Sandy.
On hurricane relief yesterday, Prime Minister Trudeau said the following.
"Canada is engaged with and in close contact with the Caribbean disaster emergency management agency to determine the needs and to co-ordinate potential assistance as requested. Of course, Canada and Canadians will always stand ready to assist in this time of need for our neighbours to the south."
Canada's naval vessel the HMCS St. John's has been ordered to be at the ready to provide relief. The types of supplies provided by Canada in the past include hygiene kits, pillows, towels, baby formula and bottles, cribs, linens, and the like. They have in the past been flown in by the Royal Canadian Air Force, who are ready to do the same if needed for Hurricane Irma.
Prime Minister Trudeau urged Canadians who would be in the path of Hurricane Irma to contact their nearest Canadian government office, or Global Affairs Canada, for emergency assistance.
With 14 dead already from Hurricane Irma, Florida Governor Rick Scott is urging everyone in his state to take shelter. Hurricane Irma is expected to arrive in Florida late Saturday evening or early Sunday.
Airbnb Florida is one option for those having difficulty finding a room. Campgrounds and local schools are offering additional assistance. Residents are advised to check their local sheriff's pages for further information.
[Feature Image by Carlos Giusti/AP Images]