On The Ground In Tampa
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Hurricane Irma has moved over the Florida Keys, and it's getting set to make its way up the west coast of Florida. The Tampa-St. Petersburg area seems to be in for a rough time over the next several hours. A direct hit from the hurricane could bring a storm surge as high as 15 feet. More than a third of this state is under mandatory evacuation, and people are hunkered down in hotels or inside their own boarded-up homes. And tens of thousands are riding out the storm in shelters around the state. NPR's Leila Fadel is at one of those shelters in Tampa, and she joins us now.
Leila, can you describe the shelter for us?
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Yes, I'm at a special-needs shelter. This is usually the basketball court for the University of South Florida. I see home of the bulls in the bleachers. But right now, it's cots for as far as you can see, oxygen tanks, people in lines getting juice, getting water and getting hunkered down, ready to ride this storm out. We haven't seen it yet. It hasn't made it up here yet, just some heavy rain. But everybody here is in cots, in chairs, waiting for this storm to come.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say special needs, what kinds of special-needs people are there?
FADEL: Well, this is a place where a lot of hospices have brought people to ride out the storm because they have nurses and physicians on staff, generators, as I said, medium, small and large oxygen tanks. We spoke to a woman who had recently had open-heart surgery and at noon, yesterday, realized Tampa was going to get a direct hit, possibly. So she left her house, went to a shelter, and they told her, come here. Here is where the doctors are, the nurses are. And so they really are - they're really taking care of patients here. And most people come with their own caregivers, whether it's a family member or someone else. But they're also trying not to turn away other people as well if they really need a place to shelter right now because the storm is knocking on the doors.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is the mood of the people that you've been speaking to? As you mentioned, people were not prepared for the storm to take a turn to their city.
FADEL: You know, surprisingly, people are just sort of saying, you know, it's here now, we've got to do the best. We spoke to lots of volunteers who got emails and said they're going to show up, who left their families in other places in the state that took refuge there and came here to take care of others because they're from Tampa or St. Petersburg and have a skill.
We have spoken to business owners who last minute were boarding up their businesses and letting their employees evacuate. Everybody, now, at this point, is where they are going to be when the storm hits, and they're just waiting for it to come. This particular shelter is actually over capacity, as many shelters around this area are.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do they have enough supplies?
FADEL: They say they do. They feel ready for what's to come. As I've mentioned with you before, Tampa was really unprepared for being a possible direct hit by the storm. And so suddenly, people started evacuating - evacuating out of Tampa or evacuating to a place that was safer, like right here. So this place opened, actually, on Friday. It was Saturday afternoon that people really started to show up, both volunteers and people who are here. The hallways are all lined with cots, and they're waiting for the storm.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, that's Leila Fadel in Tampa. Thank you so much.
FADEL: Thank you.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
And to recap our main story, Hurricane Irma is moving toward west coast Florida cities.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a Category 4 storm with maximum winds of 130 miles per hour. Irma is heading up the Gulf Coast, where its impact is expected to be most severe. But the hurricane is being felt across this entire state. At least 1.3 million customers have lost power already. Florida Governor Rick Scott has requested a major disaster declaration from President Trump. Stay tuned to NPR throughout the day for coverage from our NPR and member station correspondents across Florida. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro in Miami.
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