Total I-75 Shutdown Possible: Irma Evacuees Face Tough Road Home

Eric Chaney
Published: September 13, 2017

The rapidly rising Santa Fe River could cause fresh chaos for Hurricane Irma evacuees returning home to South Florida.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the I-75 bridge over the Sante Fe River near mile marker 408 in northern Florida, while safe and passable at the moment, could be completely inundated. 

“If the river were to rise to an unsafe level, the bridge would become impassable both northbound and southbound, and would be closed immediately,” FDOT warned.

Even with the bridge fully open, evacuees are facing a tough road home. 

Many parts of the state are still covered either in flood water or debris and more than 2 million are still without power. Gas stations around the state don't have fuel and airports are running at very limited capacity, if at all, as of Tuesday morning. 

Traffic Jams, Gas Shortages 

Traffic jams had already formed by mid-morning throughout Florida and southern Georgia, as millions of evacuated residents flooded back into and through the state in the aftermath of Irma, the Miami Herald reports. 

“We’re trying to encourage people to stay off the roads," FHP spokesperson Frady told the Herald. "Conditions are just now being assessed."

In Georgia, the department of transportation said Tuesday morning that traffic volumes on I-75 south were already triple what's normal, WABE reports. 

All of those drivers are taking a big risk of running out of gas the further south they get. 

As of late Monday, more than half of the gas stations in Miami/Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Tallahassee are completely out of gas, according to GasBuddy. In both Orlando and Fort Myers/Naples the number stands at 47 percent. 

Air Travel Starting to Reopen 

Florida airports are beginning to reopen Tuesday, but several will be operating on limited schedules until airlines ramp up operations later in the week.

"Nobody wants to get planes in and out more than me," Miami International Airport CEO Emilio González told USA TODAY. "But we can't just flip a switch."

Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa were among the state’s major airfields that were expected to see at least some airline flights resume Tuesday, the paper said. 

On Monday, West Palm Beach became one of the first airports in South Florida to resume service when a single Delta Air Lines flight arrived. More flights are expected there on Tuesday – and at most airports across Florida – though fliers should expect uneven schedules as airlines work to get back to normal flying in the state. 

Expect demand for seats to be high, Thomas Spagnola, a travel expert and senior vice president of supplier relations for CheapOair, told the Herald. Passengers who already have tickets will be the first to be attended to.

“If you are looking to buy a ticket in the next week or so, expect to pay a higher price as the demand for seats will be greater than normal because of the limited capacity,” Spagnola said. “To try and save money, look at the secondary airports as compared to the major airports.”

Train service back to Florida has also been suspended until further notice.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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