As Irma weakens into inland rainstorms, evacuees return home to water-logged Florida

Atlanta: With Irma having weakened into inland rainstorms, Floridians are beginning a mass migration back to a battered, water-logged state where millions remains without power.

But traffic maps, social media reports, gasoline trackers and the ever-reliable eye test all say it isn't an easy trip on Tuesday and won't be in the days ahead.

 As Irma weakens into inland rainstorms, evacuees return home to water-logged Florida

File satellite image of Irma. AP

"As soon as we hit the state line, it was traffic jams and accidents," said Elizabeth Priore of Fort Lauderdale, as she continued her return drive from Alpharetta, Georgia, late Tuesday afternoon.

Priore said she had managed to find gas and open restaurants along the way, and she said Interstate 95 south of Jacksonville was "moving well".

But traffic cameras elsewhere in the state, particularly along Interstate 75 where it meets the Florida Turnpike 60 miles north of Orlando, showed gridlock.

"We were expecting a nightmare," Priore said, explaining that she decided it was better to brave it than to wait. Other Floridians are opting to wait it out, fearing the congestion, lane closures, fender benders, shuttered restaurants and gas stations without fuel.

"We're not leaving until Thursday because of the gas situation," said Nick Westbrook, a Coral Gables resident who has settled in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife and children.

"We have friends on the road, and they're letting us know it's just what I feared it would be."

Adam Bolanos, a high school teacher from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says he's talking to neighbors and friends on the road, particularly about fuel access. "The shortage is very real," he said.

Bolanos and his family, a three-car caravan with multiple generations and pets, also is waiting in Tennessee.

Florida governor Rick Scott and other authorities are urging evacuees not to be in a rush to return, particularly those who live in the hardest-hit areas, from Key West and the southwest coastline near Naples to the flooded neighborhoods of Jacksonville in state's northeast corner.

As power crews dispersed on Tuesday, an estimated 15 million Floridians, about 5.6 million residential and commercial customers were without electricity. Bridges were being inspected around the state, power outages left traffic signals inoperable on key surface roads, and some roadways remained closed due to standing water, downed power lines or debris.

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Updated Date: Sep 13, 2017 12:36:54 IST