Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 storm, is expected to hit Florida late Saturday with enough force to tear down trees and powerlines and rip roofs off buildings. Irma has already caused excessive damage in the Caribbean, where more than 20 people have died as a result of the storm. The National Hurricane Center reported 150 mph winds and the risk of "life-threatening innudation" in the Florida Keys.
Florida Governor Rick Scott urged the state's residents to not underestimate the storm, which has a projected area of impact wider than the state itself. Most of South Florida is under a storm-surge warning, with voluntary and mandatory evacuation orders in place in Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys. Irma is one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
The power of Irma may be especially devastating as it follows on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas two weeks earlier. Harvey, also a Category 4 storm, killed over 70 people across 300 miles of the Texas coast and parts of Louisiana. Many homes and buildings are still underwater. President Trump has signed a $15 billion Harvey aid package to help victims.
Additionally, Hurricane Irma may have company this weekend. Hurricanes Jose and Katia are also moving through the Atlantic Ocean Basin and may make landfall as early as Friday evening. A hurricane watch has been issued for many of the same Caribbean islands already heavily impacted by Irma earlier this week.
Florida citizens are preparing for the storm any way possible, including stocking up on supplies such as gasoline and food, and boarding up homes and buildings. Many citizens have fled to evacuation shelters throughout the state.
Major natural disasters such as hurricanes can raise concerns of crime increase in their aftermath. Abandoned property and storefronts coupled with people desparate for resources can lead to what some consider criminal looting and others view as taking for survival. In the wake of deadly Hurricane Katrina in 2005, news reports surfaced depicting a lawless scene of theft and mayhem in New Orleans; these reports were later shown to be overly sensationalized.
In Houston, there have been few reports of crime but many stories of volunteers helping victims recover lost belongings and clean out their flooded homes. People from all over the United States traveled to Texas with boats in order to navigate the flooded streets and help in any way possible. While Houston police have reported 18 arrests for looting, that number is markedly low for an area with a population of almost 5 million people.
The extent of Irma's damage in Florida and the continental United States remains to be seen. 1992 storm Hurricane Andrew caused massive damage to South Florida and prompted the state to put in place more stringent storm preparedness measures. At this point, it is unknown how much damage Irma will cause.