Hurricane Watch for South Florida Officially Declared, Irma Projected to Hit Saturday
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
WELLINGTON, Florida, Sept. 7, 2017–A hurricane watch was officially declared for South Florida, including the heavily horse populated areas centered in Wellington, with Hurricane Irma expected to make landfall in about 48 hours with what officials described as “life threatening” winds. The United States National Hurricane Center projected Irma will hit South Florida Saturday morning with winds up to 175 miles/280 km an hour, but its precise track is uncertain.
Irma, rated a category 5 for more than 50 hours, left a trail of devastation passing through the Caribbean on a path that currently puts it heading directly for Miami and up the densely populated east coast of Florida with the center passing over Wellington 70 miles/112 km north.
Coastal areas around Miami and Ft. Lauderdale were ordered evacuated with the approach of Irma.
Palm Beach Equine Clinic, the biggest veterinary practice in Wellington and located next to the Global Dressage Festival grounds, recommended horse owners stay put while securing their properties and waiting out the storm.
The clinic that has undergone a major expansion to be among the most advanced in the world said that its 25 veterinarians and three board-certified surgeons would be available around the clock during the storm. The phone number for help is 561-793-1599.
Dr. Scott Swerdlin who heads up the clinic recommended leaving halters on horses and writing with a permanent marker their name and telephone number on horses in case they escape from stalls.
Traffic on streets and highways in and around Wellington, 15 miles/24 km inland from Palm Beach island, was lighter than normal throughout Thursday. Only a handful of horse trailers were seen, most conaining horses moving to more substantial and secure barns within Wellington.
Some truckers that initially planned to transport horses from Wellington as late as Thursday gave up because of gasoline shortages and heavy traffic that would have kept horses for long periods of time in overheated trucks and trailers.
Airlines added extra flights out of South Florida Thursday but were expected to halt about half of flights scheduled for Friday.
Heavy traffic and declining gasoline supplies in central Florida confirmed concerns by horse owners who decided to stay in South Florida than risk a lengthy road trip in intense heat.
Construction of barns during the explosive growth of Wellington in the past decade has been to standards designed to withstand hurricanes up to category 4, which is expected to be the maximum strength of Irma when it hits Wellington at full force some time Sunday.
The U.S. government issued a hurricane watch Thursday for the Florida peninsula from Jupiter Inlet southward, including the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay, that puts Wellington within the watch area.
A hurricane watch is typically issued 48 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that the National Hurricane Center said make outside preparations “difficult or dangerous.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott compared the possible impact of Irma to hurricane Andrew in 1992 that devastated areas on the southern edge of Miami, with damage estimated at $60 billion at the time.
The impact of Hurricane Harvey in Texas is having a direct impact on Florida.
Most gasoline for Florida comes from Texas but heavy flooding caused by Harvey has interrupted supplies, leaving nearly half the gas stations in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area and one-third in the West Palm Beach area without fuel.