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Indians in Florida, nearby states brace for Hurricane Irma

Indian officials estimate there are about 125,000 Indians in the area, who include students, businesspeople and professionals.

world Updated: Sep 10, 2017 15:53 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Hurricane Irma,Indians in US,Sandeep Chakraborty
Officials at a coordinating conference call for Hurricane Irma forecast on Saturday at the hurricane centre in Miami, Florida.(AP)

She flew in from Tampa and headed for a friend’s home an hour from the Atlanta airport. But it was getting late and friends suggested the Hindu Temple in Atlanta was a safe alternative, at least for the night. And they took her in.

She is a Muslim from Mumbai, and came to the United States to study at the University of South Florida. And now this, Hurricane Irma, which is expected to make landfall Sunday afternoon. She did not want to be identified.

The Hindu Temple in Atlanta is taking in people as they come in, unannounced but worried for the well-being of their families. “We are taking in everyone irrespective of caste, colour or religion,” Sai Ram, a trustee of the temple said over phone.

An estimated 6.3 million people in Florida have been asked to move to safer areas to escape the Hurricane, which President Donald Trump said was expected to be “of enormous destructive power” and urged people in its path to heed to officials.

People have the option of moving into the nearest shelters run by the government, charities, churches and organizations with access to large spaces. Some, like the university student, are crossing into the adjoining state of Georgia to the north or beyond.

From the consulate general in Atlanta, Indian officials are monitoring the situation for Indians and those of Indian descent who need help. They estimate there are about 125,000 Indians in the area, who include students, businesspeople and professionals.

“The situation seems OK for this time,” said Sandeep Chakraborty, the New York consul general who has moved to Atlanta to oversee Indian government’s relief and rescue operations and who has been in touch with Indian American community leaders in most Florida cities.

All Indians in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands, which have already been hit by the hurricane, are safe, he added. There were 600 Indians in St Thomas, capital of the US Virgin Islands, for instance, and they have told officials they are all accounted for.

The consulate has set up emergency helplines that will run round the clock. The numbers are +14044052567 and +16787179393 in Atlanta, and +1202 258 8819 for the Indian embassy in Washington DC.

The consulate is working closely with the Indian American community in Atlanta, which has received hundred of families from Florida, some of whom moved into Hindu Temples, and other such large campuses.

Many others have taken shelter with families, who have opened their homes to strangers, people they have never known or met. Nagesh Doddaka, who heads the Telugu Association of Metropolitan Atlanta that is spearheading that effort, said 25 families have already moved in with their hosts, and 30 more were on their way.

Doddaka is taking in two families himself. One of them was driving from Tampa and was an hour away from his home at the time he spoke to Hindustan Times. “They were to leave yesterday but kept delaying it till they could.”

Florida authorities have marked out areas in the hurricane’s path that are under mandatory evacuation orders. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, you need to leave now,” Governor Rick Scott said on Saturday. “Do not wait. Evacuate. Not tonight, not in an hour. You need to go right now.”

First Published: Sep 10, 2017 15:53 IST