Irma remained a Category 5 storm Wednesday with sustained wind speeds of at least 185 mph, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. It was expected to continue on its current track, with a fluctuating wind speed but remaining a Category 4 or 5, before making a northwesterly turn starting Saturday morning. That's when it would begin to threaten Florida. Models on Wednesday showed Irma likely to make landfall near Miami before reentering the Atlantic and threatening the Georgia and South Carolina coasts.
Where have evacuations been ordered?
Officials in Broward County issued a mandatory evacuation for parts of the county Wednesday, ordering coastal residents to begin leaving midday today. Monroe County officials ordered visitors to leave by Wednesday and gave residents until today to pack up and go. Miami-Dade officials were holding off on calling an evacuation, but warned residents to be ready.
How is the hurricane affecting flights?
Operations are mostly normal at Tampa International Airport as of Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Emily Nipps. But local people are reporting issues booking flights out of TIA to most destinations this week. Flights are either completely booked, unavailable or very expensive.
Where can I book a hotel room?
Hotel rooms in Hillsborough County are increasingly booking up with locals and South Florida residents leaving coastal areas. If Irma's path continues to move east and away from Tampa Bay, hoteliers expect reservations to start filling up more quickly, especially by the weekend and through early next week.
Are special accommodations being made for the homeless?
If a mandatory evacuation is declared, the roughly 30 emergency shelters in Pinellas County will be open to the general public, including the homeless. Otherwise, Pinellas Safe Harbor takes homeless individuals overnight as walk-ins. The capacity for beds is 400, and the shelter was at 359 as of Wednesday afternoon.
St. Vincent de Paul South Pinellas in St. Petersburg has 120 first come, first serve walk-in beds. CEO Michael Raposa said the facility will accept people past capacity "because it is the right thing to do."
The hurricane shelters in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, if opened, will also be available to the general public.
Will hospitals operate through the storm?
Tampa General Hospital will be open. Officials from Bayfront Health, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, Largo Medical Center, St. Petersburg General Hospital, Northside Hospital, Mease Dunedin Hospital, Mease Countryside Hospital and Morton Plant Hospital said they were staying in touch with emergency management officials and evaluating their staff and supplies.
— Josh Solomon, tbt*