TAMPA (FOX 13) - It was one year ago when Hurricane Irma’s eye arrived in Florida, reminding all of how destructive and stressful Mother Nature can be.
The massive storm appeared to swallow the entire state as it inched closer to the Florida Keys after making five landfalls in the Caribbean islands. On September 10, 2017, Irma first made landfall at Cudjoe Key, in the lower Florida Keys, at 9:10 a.m. Almost six hours later, the hurricane made its final landfall at Marco Island as a Category 3 hurricane.
Those days leading up to Irma’s arrival were visibly frustrating as its projected path changed. Floridians scrambled to stock up with supplies. Images from those events were unforgettable. Water aisles in grocery stores were unusually empty. Long lines of shoppers were seen pushing carts filled with non-perishable items. Gas stations ran out of gas. Interstate 75, which is the major highway that travels along Florida's spine, had bumper-to-bumper traffic as people as far south as the Keys evacuated.
After Irma made its second landfall in Florida, it altered its path again, making a last-minute turn into the interior counties. Some Floridians experienced as little as days without power, while others lost their homes and loved ones to Irma.
Irma was ranked as the fifth-costliest hurricane to affect the U.S., with estimated damages reaching $50 billion. The death toll reached at least 44 fatalities directly caused by the storms’ strong winds and heavy rains. Four occurred in Florida. An additional 85 fatalities were indirectly linked to the storm, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, 80 of which occurred in Florida.
This year, officials said there were enough lessons since Hurricane Irma to know that it is never too late to be prepared. In Hillsborough County, Preston Cook, the emergency management director, said when they announced evacuations for two zones, they ended up getting more than they bargained for.
"We called for Level A -- possible B -- evacuation. We really got a C or D level evacuation. We sheltered over 30,000 people over 60 shelters," he explained during his Good Day Tampa Bay visit on Monday. "We had to adapt."
Shelters should be a last resort, and he suggested just heading outside of the surge zone, so take advantage of hotels or the homes of loved ones. Also, stock up, so you're not rushing to get those hurricane supplies.
"You really want to go as far as you need to go," Cook said. "If you go to Georgia, if you're on the highways, you can be more impacted. As we have seen in times past, it could go to where you're evacuated to."
"Don't let fear come into the plan," he added. "Last year, Irma was a big, scary storm and it brought a lot of that human emotion."
Irma proved that September is a busier hurricane month, which currently has three named storms swirling in the Atlantic Ocean: Florence, Isaac and Helene. During Irma, Highlands County was the second hardest hit county in the state. The first was Monroe County within the Florida Keys.
"When you think you’re prepared, get 10 times more prepared,” explained Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman, two months after Irma. “Don’t wait until a week before the storm. Start preparing now. Getting those things stocked up so that...you’re already ready and we don’t have to run around where there’s nothing on shelves left to get."
On September 11, 2017, Irma weakened to a tropical storm as it traveled over Gainesville, Florida. It dissipated two days later over Missouri.