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Florida Schools, Students Make Preparations for Hurricane Irma

Customers purchase groceries at a local supermarket as they prepare for Hurricane Irma, Sept. 5, 2017, in Hialeah, Fla.

While students in southeast Texas were cleaning up from the receding floodwaters left by Hurricane Harvey, students in Florida, a few states to the east, were preparing for Hurricane Irma, which is being called the most powerful Atlantic storm on record.

Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico and the Caribbean on Wednesday and was tracked to move to Florida by Sunday. While the storm’s intensity and course could diminish, universities in Southern Florida are preparing for the worst.

Tyler Benthal, a senior in his home state at Florida Southern University in Lakeland, Florida, said it’s “too early to tell how badly it will affect us, but people back home in Florida are taking it seriously.”

Benthal, an intern in Washington, D.C. this semester, said he had planned to go home to Florida this weekend, but the storm forced him to reconsider.

“Stores are already either out or running out of water and other supplies,” he said of Lakeland. “Because of our past with hurricanes, it is just a waiting game to see how bad we will get hit.”

Once Hurricane Irma was forecast to hit Florida, the University of Miami was the first college to respond, announcing that all classes for the rest of the week were canceled.

“All students have been encouraged to take steps to leave South Florida, no later than Thursday,” said Peter Howard, assistant vice president of news and media relations at the University of Miami.

Miami Dade College tweeted that they are operating normally while monitoring the storm.

Most area colleges promised to keep students updated of the storm’s course. Janine Sikes, assistant vice president of public affairs at the University of Florida, said the university’s police department will email students, reminding them to update their emergency contacts.

Miami-Dade County public schools canceled their Thursday and Friday classes, and the county plans to begin evacuations Wednesday, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.

“This is a powerful storm which poses a serious threat to our area,” Gimenez said. “I would rather inconvenience residents on this occasion than suffer any loss of life.”

Officials from Monroe County, home to the popular chain of islands in the southern tip of the state called the Florida Keys, issued a mandatory evacuation order for tourists and residents.

Irma, being called “potentially catastrophic” by the National Hurricane Center, passed over Puerto Rico late Wednesday with winds at more than 280 kilometers per hour.

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