Jessica Alexandre has spent the last few days walking through her home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., deciding what she’ll pack into her Hyundai Elantra and what will be left behind before she and her family caravan north to her mother’s house in Atlanta on Thursday morning. Old family heirlooms, her two dogs, an 18-year-old nephew and other family members go. Everything else stays.
A survivor of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew and 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, Alexandre is no stranger to unruly weather, but Hurricane Irma’s rampage through the Caribbean, which is expected to touch down in Florida on Saturday, truly scares her.
“I’m anticipating that it’s going to be pretty bad,” she said. “We’re thinking about how long we’re not going to have power down here. What resources are there going to be for people. We’re not sure, which is why we’re leaving. I have family down here who have property. It’s upsetting.”
Maria Mendoza was on the highway to Birmingham, Ala., from Miami when The Root spoke with her late Tuesday night. Miami-Dade County hasn’t called for a complete evacuation of the city yet, but Mendoza decided to leave anyway for fear of being caught up among the thousands of cars driving out of the city in case one is called.
She says traffic is already a mess in the city.
What usually is a 15-minute drive to the nearby Walmart, where she gets her prescription filled, took nearly an hour and a half because so many people were trying to stock up on food. Originally from Kansas City, Mo., Mendoza moved to Miami just three months ago and isn’t used to hurricanes. As she packed her belongings in her 10th-floor apartment, which looks down on the city’s Biscayne Bay, Mendoza wondered if the windows would hold up.
“I’m just hoping the glass doesn’t shatter and let the rain in, ’cause those windows don’t look hurricane safe,” she said.
As Hurricane Irma becomes the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, Florida has declared a state of emergency for some parts of the state, with a key focus on Miami-Dade’s 2.7 million residents. It is not clear what trajectory the Category 5 hurricane will take if or when it hits landfall this weekend, but its 180-plus mph winds may very well hit the Florida Keys, a chain of islands south of the state with 80,000 residents. The city manager there has already ordered an evacuation.
As Vox reports, it is not just the winds that are life-threatening. Floods from storm surge and heavy rainfall are also a factor.
According to NPR, Irma left massive flooding and building damage in the French Caribbean islands of St. Barthélemy and St. Martin. The most durable buildings in St. Martin have been destroyed, according to French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb. Irma spared the islands of Antigua and Barbuda for the most part. Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne posted a message of relief on his Facebook page:
The forecast was that Antigua would be devastated, our infrastructure demolished, people killed and our economy destroyed.
In the light of day, the picture is very different.
In Antigua, no life has been lost – all the people survived.
The guests in our hotels are all well.
At the moment, forecasts have the hurricane moving toward the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. As The Root reported Wednesday, Puerto Rico’s only electricity company warned customers that they could go four to six months without power.
Irma is expected to hit the Dominican Republic on Thursday. Haiti, which is still reeling from the more than 1,000 lives lost from Hurricane Matthew a year ago, could also be devastated by Irma. It is likely the country least capable of preparing for such a powerful hurricane.
As Samira Jackson was driving north to Jacksonville from Miami, where she attends law school, she thought about the history of colonialism that continues to impact the Caribbean—especially Haiti—and how that may have left its people vulnerable to natural disasters.
“A lot of those places are not as developed,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
She thinks about how fortunate she is to be able to drive her own car to Jacksonville and fly home to her native Silver Spring, Md., from there. Jackson also wonders, in the event of the very worst, if millions of dollars will be raised for Haiti or other Caribbean nations and islands, as Houston Texans star J.J. Watt raised for Hurricane Harvey survivors. Will the media care about Irma victims if the majority of them are black? Will they care? She brings up Sierra Leone, where massive mudslides may have killed as many as 1,000 people, far more than Harvey.
When Irma dies down and the damage is done, Jackson hopes that the empathy and public support for all of its victims will be equal. She hopes that the black lives that Irma may take outside the U.S. will be eulogized by the international community just as the lives here in the United States will be.
“Everyone gets injured in these kinds of natural disasters,” she said. “Not just Americans.”