DAVID GREENE, HOST:
For the second time in two weeks, there is a huge tropical storm that seems poised to hit the American mainland.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
First it was Harvey, which hit Texas, dropping 50 inches of rain in some places. Now, Florida is preparing for one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded - Hurricane Irma.
GREENE: Yeah, the storm has already killed at least eight people and virtually destroyed some of the small Caribbean islands in its path. And over the next few days, Irma is projected to deal a direct blow to the city of Miami and elsewhere in Florida. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro is in Miami and joins us. Hey there, Lulu.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Hey, how are you?
GREENE: I'm good. How are you? And where are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, anxious, I think, is the right word. I am in Miami Beach, in the famous South Beach area, a place normally packed with tourists. And right now, I'm looking at the strip of Ocean Drive hotels. They're boarded up with plywood. The bars are shuttered. All you can see is the sort of eerie glow of the neon signs that are still on. City workers are making sure everything is ready. We're seeing a lot of Florida Power light crews.
And as you may be able to hear, the wind is starting to pick up as Irma makes its way here. This area is under a mandatory evacuation order, as are many coastal areas in Miami. This city is starting to empty, and you can feel that Miami is shutting down.
GREENE: So if the city's starting to empty, where all these people going?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, David, some are ending up in shelters like the one in a working-class neighborhood of Miami called Hialeah, which has been set up in the Miami Central Senior High School auditorium.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We have medicine, towels...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A steady stream of people are coming in, joining the 700 already here. Only the very elderly have cots. Most are sleeping on the floor, on blankets or even cardboard boxes, with their belongings in plastic bags. Philippe Napoleon is a local principal who is in charge of the shelter.
PHILIPPE NAPOLEON: We're anticipating maybe another thousand. There will probably be more individuals wanting to come in. We're doing the best we can with what we have so far.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Once they reach capacity, they will have to turn people away, he says. Napoleon tells me the storm has everyone worried.
NAPOLEON: Very concerning because the anticipation and not knowing what's going to happen, I think, is the thing that's traumatizing the most for the people here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Albert Colman is 74. He's here with his wife. He's been through many storms since moving to Miami as a child, but Irma has him scared.
Do you normally come to a shelter? Do you think this storm is bigger?
ALBERT COLMAN: Well, this storm is way bigger, I'm thinking, the way they talking and the way the news show it. It's much, much bigger. So that's why I've decided to come to this shelter. This is my first time coming.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you've lived in Florida all your life?
COLMAN: Ever since I was 10 years old.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A family of Argentines sit nearby, playing cards. They were on a beach holiday when the evacuation order came through. Sophia d'Angostino is 16.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I never imagined it could happen, but I'm a little scared. But, like, I feel calm that we are all together and this place is safe and it has a good organization. And so I'm not so scared now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the airport, it was a scene of controlled chaos. Many connecting flights have been canceled, leaving travelers stranded in huge lines waiting for missing bags.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Right now, we're waiting for approval of these flights - Cali, Philadelphia, LaGuardia.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Others at the airport acknowledged they were fleeing Irma's wrath. One passenger bought a ticket to the first destination out of town. He declined to give his name as he was rushing to catch his flight, traveling with his wife and two kids.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We're heading out west.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Out west? Was it just sort of like wherever you could find a ticket or you know where you're going?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's pretty much wherever you can find.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, that's crazy and severe it is right now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jonathan Lamet was also traveling with his wife and two children, ages 6 and 3.
JONATHAN LAMET: We're going to my sister in New York. I got a ticket last second. The plan was to stay and ride it through, but we got lucky enough. We have a one-way flight. We're going to figure out how to get home later.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He was relieved to be leaving.
LAMET: I'm a lifelong Miami Beach resident, and it's the most panic I've ever seen. People take it very seriously. Even myself, I was ready to go and ride it through the whole time. And then this morning, they said direct hit, the worst storm ever - and kind of changed things.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He then sped off, too.
LAMET: Jakey, come on.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the majority of Miamians are hunkering down and waiting for Irma to descend. There are long lines at gas stations. At a supermarket in West Miami, Pricella Santana was shopping for some last-minute items with her 1-month-old daughter and her mom.
PRICELLA SANTANA: It's been very hectic. I mean, I haven't even gotten gas, So I'm very lucky that I have a half a tank. But everywhere I've gone, it's been 30, 40-minute waits. Walmarts, Publix, you really can't get anything. I was actually shocked to see that there's water here, so it's crazy (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She is married to a policeman who will be on duty for the storm.
SANTANA: His area, he's actually working in Cutler Bay. So that's one of the areas where the surges are going to be at, so I'm a little worried.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: David, I'm from Miami, and the people here are used to hurricanes. Many people remember the terrible destruction of Andrew in 1992. They watched the aftermath of Harvey in Houston. And people are bracing for what is expected to be a brutal storm.
GREENE: Yeah, Lulu, I thought that was your city. We'll be thinking of everyone in Miami and in Southern Florida in the coming days. Lulu Garcia-Navarro reporting from Miami this morning. Thanks, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.