The race to flee Hurricane Irma became a marathon nightmare as more than a half-million people were ordered to leave South Florida on Thursday.
With the storm barreling toward the tip of Florida for perhaps a catastrophic blow this weekend, normally quick trips turned into daylong journeys on crowded highways amid a constant search for gasoline and lodging. Airline seats out of Florida were in short supply as well.
Mari and Neal Michaud loaded their two children and dog into their small sport-utility vehicle and left their home near Cocoa Beach about 10 a.m., bound for an impromptu vacation in Washington, D.C. Using a phone app and calls to search for fuel along the way, they finally arrived at a convenience store that had gasoline nearly five hours later.
The 60-mile trip up Interstate 95 should have taken an hour, Mari Michaud said.
"There was no gas and it's gridlock. People are stranded on the sides of the highway," she said. "It's 92 degrees out and little kids are out on the grass on the side of the road. No one can help them."
Late Thursday, the National Hurricane Center issued the first hurricane warning for the Keys and parts of South Florida, including some of the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people. It added a storm surge warning and extended watch areas along the east and west coasts.