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Hurricane Irma: Some Indians in Florida choose to stay as others evacuate

“We received non-mandatory evacuation orders and were told it was our personal choice whether to leave or not, so we decided to stay back,” Usha Venkatachalam told HT.

world Updated: Sep 10, 2017 20:45 IST
Kartikeya Ramanathan
Kartikeya Ramanathan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Hurricane Irma,Indians in US,Irma evacuation
Florida residents take shelter from Hurricane Irma inside the Germain Arena in Estero.(REUTERS)

Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida’s West Keys on Sunday, is considered the most powerful storm ever in the Atlantic. With an estimated width of 600-650 km, it is larger than several countries, including the ones in the Caribbean that it battered, killing more than 20 people.

Evacuation warnings — both mandatory and non-mandatory — have been issued in Florida, with more than 6.3 million asked to leave. Experts believe the hurricane will be the most destructive storm to have hit the state in 25 years. It’s path was supposed to go up Florida’s east coast, but the storm changed its direction and has moved westward instead.

“We started driving on Friday, and have come quite far from our home,” Satish Nigam, a resident of Naples, Florida, told HT over phone. “The storm was not supposed to affect us, but after it changed its path, we decided to evacuate.”

When HT spoke to him, Nigam and his family had reached the city of Destin, and were headed to New Orleans in the neighbouring state of Louisiana to wait out the storm.

Nigam said not everybody has evacuated their homes.

“Some neighbours are staying back. That, and good planning by the (US) authorities ensured that we had no problems getting out. We are constantly scanning TV stations for updates, but phone connections are dropping,” he said.

“The US government made all preparations, including ensuring that all petrol stations were stocked for people fleeing. This is such a big evacuation, but apart from having more than ordinary traffic on the road — meaning the drive was slow —all things have been smooth,” he said.

Nigam did have one worry on his mind — his house in Naples. “I have insurance, but my worry is that if the roof itself flies off, there is little we can do in terms of claims,” he said.

But another family of Indian origin, in Fort Lauderdale, said they were staying back.

“We received non-mandatory evacuation orders and were told it was our personal choice whether to leave or not, so we decided to stay back,” Usha Venkatachalam told HT.

“We are more than 30 km away from the shore, so we are better off to ride out the storm. We also have hurricane-proof windows and a shelter in our house, so we are prepared for the storm.”

According to Venkatachalam, people given mandatory evacuation orders included those living along the shore, people in high-rises and condos, and people in mobile homes.

She said the rain, which had been beating down on the city for the past two days, had stopped and the wind speeds had dropped. “However, the wind will pick up later,” she predicted.

However, there are some things that one can’t prepare for.

“The phone lines and power lines are down,” she admitted. “We also face the danger of flooding. We have stocked up on food, water and have propane gas cylinders to cook, but some of our neighbours had the foresight to also get generators — we didn’t.”

“Curfew has been declared, so we can’t step out either,” she said.

The external affairs ministry has been keeping a close watch on things, helping Indians and people of Indian origin where and in whatever capacity it can. Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar has tweeted out phone numbers of India’s consulates in all affected areas in order to ensure all are safe.

First Published: Sep 10, 2017 20:45 IST