SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Hurricane Irma is closing in on South Florida. The storm has ripped through the Caribbean and taken at least 20 lives. The National Weather Service says the storm is expected to be at a Category 4 as it leaves Cuba and heads west, where it's expected to arrive in Florida later today. More than 5 million people have been warned to evacuate South Florida, including in Miami-Dade County. NPR's Kirk Siegler joins us now.
Kirk thanks very much for being with us.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott. Glad to be here.
SIMON: Where are you? What are you seeing?
SIEGLER: Well, we're near the Miami airport. And we were actually on our way back to visit a shelter I've been hanging out at but just decided to turn back 'cause the weather really took a turn for the worse. This particular shelter had been one that had been taking in people and pets and had recently started turning people away due to overcrowding.
I talked with a woman named Gloria Negron (ph). Now, she lived near the shelter and decided to hunker down there. And she remembers being here during Andrew, and she decided to stay home and shelter in place for that. But when she saw the warnings for Irma, she decided to pack up and brought her dog, Lucky, out to the shelter. So let's listen to - for a second to what she told me.
GLORIA NEGRON: It is what it is, like, you know. We just have to do our best. Inside there, there are too many people, and everybody is at the edge.
SIEGLER: Scott, you know, there are shelters in the area with space. And authorities are urging anyone who's not in a safe area to go to one of these immediately. Gloria - as you can imagine, there's a lot of nervousness and anxiety. She told me it's so crowded in there that she's been sleeping in a chair so far.
SIMON: You've been talking to a lot of people. What are some of the many reasons that people decide not to evacuate and just hunker down?
SIEGLER: I think that they think they're making their own decisions and thinking that maybe they'll be able to protect their property in their own way. But you know - interesting - just a moment ago, I read a tweet that authorities are literally begging people to leave the Florida Keys right now in particular. There are reports of people hunkering down there, and it's just not safe at all.
I was downtown for a good spell yesterday. There were a lot of homeless people who were still out. And Miami - here, there are people who simply can't leave. There was a lot of traffic going north, but you've got a lot of communities, in particular some recent immigrant communities, who maybe can't afford to leave. There aren't a lot of options. There's also a fair amount of confusion as the path and the forecasts change. People will move one place and then evacuate to there...
SIEGLER: ...And then figure out that they've got to turn back and go somewhere else. There's a lot of confusion now. Florida Governor Rick Scott said that, you know, if people hadn't left this area by midnight last night and they're in the mandatory evacuation zones, he warned them not to drive north at this point, instead to go to a shelter. It's just not safe.
SIMON: Yeah. Well in line with shifting predictions, the National Weather Service now says the potential path has been shifting to the west.
SIMON: So what are the implications for Miami, where you are, which is on the eastern side of the state, and then communities that are on the west like Tampa, St. Petersburg?
SIEGLER: Right. Well, what we know so far is if it is predicted to continue moving west, Miami may not be in the direct path as once feared. Now, that's not really a lot of solace to a lot of people here. This storm, as you know, is huge with the potential for a wide swath of devastation literally up Florida as it moves up the state. And you know, even here in Miami, there are maximum winds of 155 miles an hour forecast. So there's no joke here. And you asked about other places. Authorities are watching Fort Myers, in particular, if this moves west and also Tampa as well. Those are big concern areas.
SIMON: NPR's Kirk Siegler speaking to us from outside a shelter - near a shelter in Miami as Hurricane Irma approaches South Florida.
Kirk, thanks so much for being with us. We're very grateful.
SIEGLER: OK. Glad to be here.
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