Thousands of residents of South Florida are inundating hurricane shelters ahead of Hurricane Irene’s arrival, filling locations to capacity as a storm billed as one of the most powerful to ever make landfall in US history approaches.
In some locations, people are arriving at the doors only to be told that there is no room for them there. Frustrated with what has been seen as a lack of communication from local officials — and, in some cases, conflicting messages about where to go — some are asking a simple question: Why hasn’t Donald Trump opened up his Mar-a-Lago resort as a place of refuge for desperate Americans?
“Of course he should” open up Mar-a-Lago, Rick Castillo said, standing just in front of his beachside home in Hollywood. Mr Castillo had prepared his home the best he could, and was admiring the crashing waves in front of him before the worst of Irma arrived.
Mr Castillo said that he wasn’t worried about the storm anymore — forecasts no longer say that the eastern coast of Florida will experience direct landfall — but said that the ramped up concern in recent days had forced people to help one another, to be as selfless as possible. On Friday, he had picked up a shovel to help others fill sandbags from the beach to bring home for safety.
“He should be doing anything to help the public,” Mr Castillo said of the President. “When people need help, you either help or you turn your head. I think Trump is turning his head.”
Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago beach side resort was ordered to be evacuated Friday alongside all of the ritzy Palm Beach Island where it sits. The resort is located on a low-lying strip of land that runs against the Atlantic Ocean, and is separated from the mainland by yet another body of narrow water. Some of the country’s most expensive real estate is located on those same barrier islands where Mr Trump’s property sits.
Hurricane Irma – in pictures
The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment on this story by the time of .
As Irma has approached, Mr Trump has repeatedly urged residents of Florida to follow the orders of their local officials, and said that the state is about as prepared as it can be. The storm, should it end up causing as much devastation as forecasters have predicted, would be the second major natural disaster of his presidency — and would come right on the heels of the first, in Houston, where floodwaters left thousands stranded following Hurricane Harvey.
At least six million people have been ordered to evacuate their homes in Florida. Florida Governor Rick Scott has said that they will continue to open shelters to help those in need of evacuation.
But, some have noted that communication with the public about those shelters has been less than stellar.
One woman at the shelter in Miami’s Florida International University said that she had taken an Uber from her Miami Beach home on evacuation orders only to be told that a listing online for a pet-friendly shelter she’d been told to go to with her dog wasn’t open. After emailing her mayor — a luxury not afforded to most, she noted — she was able to find somewhere to stay. Once she’d arrived, she said, that original shelter was found.
But for others, the rapidly filling shelters may pose significant dangers.
Nicola Little arrived at the North Miami Senior High school desperate, and in tears. She had been told to go there after finding out that a hotel room she’d booked had been closed, but the signs outside and the Red Cross staff inside told her there wasn’t room for her at the shelter. Ms Little stood in tears in front of a check-in counter wondering aloud what she could possibly do. A staffer found a chair and sat her down telling her it would all be ok.
But, less than an hour later, Ms Little walked across the cement courtyard outside the school in tears again. She said that she’d been given food and two phone numbers of places she could go, but neither line answered.
“I have nowhere to go,” Ms Little, who came to Florida just months ago on vacation but had been stranded, said. “I’m not even from here.”
She walked down the street, away from the shelter, unsure what to do.
Finally, after The Independent flagged down a Red Cross volunteer delivering food, and then ran to stop her, Ms Little was assured she would be taken care of by a Red Cross volunteer. She was taken inside of the already packed shelter and told, finally, that she would have somewhere to stay.