Gov. Scott activates 3,000 more National Guard members for Irma

Tolls lifted across state as residents flee Hurricane Irma's path

Florida Gov. Rick Scott continued warning that Hurricane Irma is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening Category 5 storm and assured citizens that the state is aggressively preparing for a possible landfall. 

He announced the activation of 3,000 additional National Guard members, bringing the total to 4,000 Thursday, with 3,000 more expected to report by Friday.

The guard will help with evacuations and sheltering, as well as working with Florida Fish and Wildlife on search and rescue efforts. They could also help after the storm with utility companies' efforts to restore power.

“This is a big storm -- 185 mph. And if you look at all the projections, it's not getting smaller, it's getting bigger,” Scott said.

ALERTS: Go to http://floridadisaster.org/alertflorida/ and type in the city or county where you live to get a link to sign up for emergency alerts for your community

While commending officials in South Florida for starting to issue evacuation orders and making additional storm preparations, Scott said people will get more direction as the storm nears about where they should travel after evacuating.

President Donald Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as Hurricane Irma prepares for landfall.

The declarations authorize the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in those places.

Scott, who had already issued a state of emergency because of the threat of the storm, asked Tuesday for pre-landfall assistance from the federal government, ordered state offices closed on Friday, started to activate members of the Florida National Guard and called for tolls to be lifted statewide to help evacuees.

“They (tolls) will be suspended for the duration of the storm's impacts to Florida,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “Ensuring the safety of Florida families and visitors is our top priority and suspending tolls statewide will help people quickly evacuate and make it easier for all Floridians to access important hurricane supplies to ensure they are fully prepared.”

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Scott's comments and directives came as Irma grew into the strongest storm ever recorded by the National Hurricane Center in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

The National Hurricane Center said the odds are growing that Irma will directly affect the Florida Keys and portions of the Florida peninsula later in the week and this weekend.

While too soon to estimate the timing and magnitude of the impacts, “Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place,” the center said in Tuesday forecast discussions.

Monroe County has already taken action, mandating tourists leave the Florida Keys on Wednesday. Residents of the Keys must leave on Thursday.

“Now is a good time for tourists and residents to fill their tanks with fuel and complete their evacuation plans,” the county said in a release.

Schools, parks and government offices in Monroe County will also shut down starting Wednesday.

Monroe County's three hospitals -- the Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West, Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon and Mariners Hospital in Tavernier -- began plans to evacuate patients on Tuesday.
School districts in other counties made plans to close later in the week or were reviewing their options. A number of high-school football games were rescheduled from Friday to Thursday. The Florida State League canceled its minor league championship series.

Scott, who on Monday declared a state of emergency throughout Florida, activated an additional 900 members of the Florida National Guard on Wednesday, bringing the number to 1,000. Another 6,000 National Guard members are to report to duty on Friday.

The National Guard said that mobilization will include 13 helicopters and over 1,000 tactical high wheeled trucks.

Active duty and National Guard forces across the nation that are no longer needed for Hurricane Harvey response are also being repositioned for Hurricane Irma and are at a high state of readiness, military officials said.

"We're in close contact with the National Guard Bureau and our Emergency Management Assistance Compact partners, who have identified approximately 30,000 troops, 4,000 trucks, 100 helicopters, 10 x C-130s, 7 x C-17s, and 5 x Aero Evacuation crews standing by for Irma support if needed," said William Manley, deputy communications director for the Department of Military Affairs.

Other preparations included:

  • The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had search and rescue teams on standby, including members who deployed to Texas for Hurricane Harvey.
  • All weight and driver restrictions for highways were lifted to speed water, food, fuel and emergency supplies.
  • The American Red Cross established a disaster relief operation in Orlando.
  • Scott asked electric utilities to identify staging areas and for updates on all nuclear facilities in the event of a necessary shutdown.
  • Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam suspended requirements involving the intrastate transportation of animals from areas expected to be impacted by Hurricane Irma. Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi have waived rules related to bringing in Florida pets and livestock.

“By suspending the intrastate movement requirements for the transportation of animals, we can ensure that Floridians and visitors can quickly and safely move their pets and livestock out of harm's way,” Putnam said in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, advised lawmakers on Tuesday that they are watching the storm. Lawmakers are scheduled to start holding committee meetings Sept. 12.

“As the path of the storm becomes more clearly defined, we will, in consultation with the Senate, make a final decision regarding the status of House committee and subcommittee meetings scheduled for next week,” Corcoran wrote.

“Hurricane Irma currently poses a serious threat to our state, and I encourage all senators and staff to use the next few days to ensure your home and family are prepared,” Negron said in a memo.

On Monday, Scott placed all of Florida under a state of emergency. The declaration was intended to give local governments in the 67 counties time to prepare, the governor's office said.

Also Monday, Attorney General Pam Bondi activated the state's “price gouging hotline.”

“Floridians need to prepare now, and they should not be inhibited by unlawful price increases on supplies necessary to brace for a major hurricane strike,” Bondi said in a release.

People who suspect businesses are taking advantage of residents in need of hurricane supplies -- food, water, hotel rooms, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment -- can make reports by calling 1-866-966-7226 (866-9-NO-SCAM).

Irma threatens Florida little more than a year after Hurricane Hermine made landfall in Northwest Florida. Hermine was the first hurricane to hit the state in more than a decade.

The new storm also threatens amid recovery efforts in Texas after the catastrophic Hurricane Harvey.

COUNTY-BY-COUNTY: Latest Hurricane Irma info for Jacksonville | Jacksonville's beaches | St. Johns County | Clay County | Nassau County | Flagler County | Putnam County | Inland First Coast counties | Georgia counties

Tolls lifted as Irma threatens Florida

Scott also directed the Florida Department of Transportation to suspend tolls across the state as residents and tourists evacuate areas that could be in the path of powerful Hurricane Irma.

Scott said he made the move Tuesday to keep traffic flowing and that the suspension will continue for the “duration of the storm's impacts to Florida.”

Also Tuesday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced the suspension of rules on moving livestock and pets within the state.

“By suspending the intrastate movement requirements for the transportation of animals, we can ensure that Floridians and visitors can quickly and safely move their pets and livestock out of harm's way,” Putnam said in a prepared statement.

Also, Putnam said Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi have waived requirements related to moving livestock and pets from Florida.

State court system shutting down Friday

With Hurricane Irma threatening to hammer Florida during the coming days, state courts will be closed Friday.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga issued an order Wednesday directing the closure.

“(The) hazards associated with Hurricane Irma may impede the ability of attorneys, litigants, witnesses, jurors, judges, court staff and others in the performance of their duties and obligations with respect to many legal processes throughout the state of Florida,” the order said.

The decision came a day after Scott ordered the closure of state offices Friday in all 67 counties. Numerous other government agencies and schools also were planning to close or postpone meetings and events.

In Tallahassee, the Florida Commission on Ethics canceled a meeting scheduled for Friday. Also, the Rules and Administration Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission scrapped a Friday meeting that had been planned at the Capitol.

Department of Corrections evacuates facilities

The Florida Department of Corrections is taking proactive steps to ensure the public and individuals entrusted to our custody are secure as Florida prepares to respond to Hurricane Irma.

The Department is working around the clock to take necessary precautions for the storm. To make certain adequate necessities are on hand, additional water and food supplies are being stocked.

Evacuation determinations are made in the best interest of the inmates and public safety. Small satellite facilities, community work release centers and work camps have been evacuated in an abundance of caution. Inmates have been relocated to larger main units (parent facilities).

The following facilities have been evacuated:

  • Ft. Myers Work Camp
  • Martin Work Camp
  • Atlantic Community Release Center
  • West Palm Beach Community Release Center
  • Ft. Pierce Community Release Center
  • Loxahatchee Road Prison
  • Opa Locka Work Release Center
  • Miami North Work Release Center
  • Turning Point Work Release Center

In the event of additional evacuations, announcements will only be made upon completion. Inmate locations will be posted on the website approximately 24-hours after relocation, per standard protocol.

In response to travel restrictions throughout Florida and to ensure staff resources can be maximized for hurricane response, weekend visitation at all institutions for Saturday and Sunday is canceled. The cancellation includes all major institutions, work camps, community release centers and annex facilities.

For more information about the Department and facilities and programs, please visit www.dc.state.fl.us.

State parks closing

The Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service announces the closure of 11 state parks in the Florida Keys due to imminent weather conditions including strong winds and rain. Preparations are being made to close an additional 24 parks tomorrow.  

  • Amelia Island State Park (Nassau County) 
  • Anclote Key Preserve State Park (Pinellas and Pasco counties) 
  • Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park (Martin County) 
  • Avalon State Park (St. Lucie County)
  • Bahia Honda State Park (Monroe County)
  • Big Talbot Island State Park (Duval County)
  • Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (Dade County)
  • Caladesi Island State Park (Pinellas County)
  • Cayo Costa State Park (Lee County)
  • Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park (Lee and Charlotte counties)
  • Collier-Seminole State Park (Collier County)
  • Curry Hammock State Park (Monroe County)
  • Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park (Monroe County) 
  • Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park (Collier County)
  • Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park (Broward County)
  • Egmont Key State Park (Hillsborough County)
  • Estero Bay Preserve State Park (Lee County)
  • Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park (Collier County)
  • Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park (Nassau County)
  • Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail (Monroe County)
  • Fort Clinch State Park (Nassau County)
  • Fort George Island Cultural State Park (Duval County) 
  • Fort Pierce Inlet State Park (St. Lucie County)
  • Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (Monroe County)
  • Gasparilla Island State Park (Lee County)
  • George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park (Nassau and Duval counties)
  • Hillsborough River State Park (Hillsborough County)
  • Honeymoon Island State Park (Pinellas County)
  • Hugh Taylor Birch State Park (Broward County)
  • Indian Key Historic State Park (Monroe County) 
  • John D. MacArthur Beach State Park (Palm Beach County)
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Monroe County)
  • Jonathan Dickinson State Park (Martin and Palm Beach counties)
  • Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (Okeechobee and Osceola counties) 
  • Koreshan State Historic Site (Lee County) 
  • Lake Kissimmee State Park (Polk and Osceola counties)
  • Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park (Monroe County)
  • Little Talbot Island State Park (Duval County)
  • Long Key State Park (Monroe County) 
  • Lovers Key State Park (Lee County) 
  • Mound Key Archaeological State Park (Lee County)
  • Oleta River State Park (Dade County) 
  • Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park (Duval County) 
  • San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park (Monroe County) 
  • Savannas Preserve State Park (St Lucie County) 
  • Seabranch Preserve State Park (Martin County) 
  • Sebastian Inlet State Park (Brevard and Indian River counties) 
  • St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park (Martin County) 
  • Stump Pass Beach State Park (Charlotte County) 
  • The Barnacle Historic State Park (Dade County) 
  • Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park (Monroe County) 
  • Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park (Duval County) 

The following state parks will be closing by 5 p.m. on Friday:

  • Addison Blockhouse Historic State Park (Volusia County)
  • Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park (Polk County) 
  • Anastasia State Park (St. Johns County) 
  • Blue Spring State Park (Volusia County) 
  • Bulow Creek State Park (Flagler and Volusia counties)
  • Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park (Flagler County) 
  • Colt Creek State Park (Polk County) 
  • De Leon Springs State Park (Volusia County) 
  • Don Pedro Island State Park (Charlotte County) 
  • Dunns Creek State Park (Putnam County) 
  • Faver-Dykes State Park (St. Johns County) 
  • Fort Mose Historic State Park (St. Johns County) 
  • Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach (Flagler County)
  • General James A. Van Fleet State Trail (Sumter, Lake and Polk counties) 
  • Haw Creek Preserve State Park (Flagler, Volusia and Putnam counties) 
  • Hontoon Island State Park (Volusia and Lake counties) 
  • Indian River Lagoon Preserve State Park (Brevard County) 
  • Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park (Manatee County) 
  • Lake Griffin State Park (Lake County) 
  • Lake Louisa State Park (Lake County) 
  • Lake Manatee State Park (Manatee County) 
  • Little Manatee River State Park (Hillsborough County) 
  • Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park (Lake and Seminole counties)
  • Madira Bickel Mound State Archaeological Site (Manatee County) 
  • Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway (Citrus, Levy, Marion and Putnam counties) 
  • Myakka River State Park (Manatee and Sarasota counties) 
  • North Peninsula State Park (Volusia County) 
  • Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park (Okeechobee County) 
  • Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail (St. Johns County) 
  • Paynes Creek Historic State Park (Hardee County) 
  • Ravine Gardens State Park (Putnam County) 
  • Rock Springs Run State Reserve (Orange, Lake and Seminole counties) 
  • Silver Springs State Park (Marion County) 
  • South Fork State Park (Manatee County) 
  • St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park (Brevard and Indian River counties) 
  • Terra Ceia Preserve State Park (Manatee County)
  • Tomoka State Park (Volusia County)
  • Washington Oaks Gardens State Park (Flagler County) 
  • Weeki Wachee Springs State Park (Hernando County) 
  • Wekiwa Springs State Park (Seminole, Orange and Lake counties) 
  • Wingate Creek State Park (Manatee County)  

All other Florida State Parks remain open at this time. 

Please visit floridastateparks.org and the Florida State Parks Facebook page for continuously updated information. 


The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.