Why these Miami residents aren't leaving home as Irma approaches

As many Floridians evacuate, some Miami residents said they are staying put.

ByABC News
September 8, 2017, 5:17 PM

— -- As more than 1 million Floridians are under orders to evacuate, ABC News spoke to some Miami residents who are hunkering down at home as Hurricane Irma -- the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade -- approaches.

Irma, initially a Category 5 and since downgraded to Category 4, is expected to make landfall as a Category 5 hurricane on the Florida Keys Sunday morning.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in an interview today with ABC News' "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts, "If you're in an evacuation zone, you've got to get out; you can't wait."

"This thing's coming," Scott added. "It looks like it's going to go right through the middle of our state."

People pack up their car to evacuate as the city prepares for Hurricane Irma, Sept. 7, 2017 in Miami Beach, Florida.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Miami and other heavily populated areas of southeastern Florida are on the worst side of the storm.

But Sylvia Constantinidis, a 27-year resident of Miami, told ABC News she has decided to stay in the city during the storm.

"I own my house. You leave and then there is a major disaster then they don't let you come back to Florida until many days after," Constantinidis said. "If you have any damage or water getting into your house and you have to wait for two or three weeks to come back, then your house will be completely damaged by the time you come back to Florida."

    Her home in Coconut Grove is just a block away from the water, she said.

    "We didn't have any damage during Wilma or Katrina, although we were hit very strongly. But this time, we are taking extra measures like the sandbags against the door in case there is flooding," she added.

    Hundreds of Miami residents, many of whom decided to stay in the city during Irma, waited in line for hours Thursday to get bags of sand. The City of Miami distributed 6,000 bags of sand in the parking lot of Grapeland Water Park, allowing residents to take six bags each. City officials began shoveling sand at 3 p.m. but residents were lined up as early as noon.

    Since Constantinidis is in an evacuation neighborhood, she booked a hotel close to her home so she can check on the damage immediately after the storm hits.

    Constantinidis said the preparations for Irma bring back memories of Hurricane Andrew, which devastated Florida 25 years ago. During that storm, "I lived the experience of feeling that I was inside a blender," she said.

    But as she watches her city and state prepare for Irma this week, she said the storm seems to be "the biggest I have ever experienced in 27 years in Florida."

    Miami resident Jan-Michael Medina is also hunkering down. He told ABC News leaving the city was never an option.

    "I can't leave, my mom is terminally ill," Medina said. "It's too hard for her to be transported so there's no choice for me."

    Miami resident Jan-Michael Medina is hunkering down in the city during Hurricane Irma.

    "Our area is not in an evacuation area, but our house is kind of low. A lot of water comes in so we do have to take extra precautions, and I do have a sick mom at home, so it's taking a lot of extra stuff to make sure the house is okay," Medina said.

    "We have four packs of water, we got some food, we are going to try to do more groceries, but right now, sand is our priority. And gas tanks, gas tanks to hold the gas," he added.

    Medina said he waited in line for five hours to get the sandbags he needs to help protect his home from flooding, and he was thrilled to finally check that off his list.

    Miami residents collect sand ahead of Hurricane Irma.

    His sister and brother-in-law also flew in from Michigan to help.

    "I was watching the news until Tuesday and then when I saw how strong it got, it was a no-brainer," Charlie Hernandez, Medina's brother-in-law, said. "I had to come."

    Miami resident Jan-Michael Medina collecting sandbags with his brother-in-law Charlie Hernandez.

    As their family scrambles to finish preparing, they are worried about the structure of their home.

    "We were here during [Hurricane] Andrew [in 1992]. I was five years old," Medina said. "Same house and everything. It dropped a lot of the trees, but we survived."

    The roof of their home, which withstood Andrew, hasn't been replaced since then, Medina said.

    "Hopefully, it will survive this one," he added.

    Medina said the family's plan is simple: hunker down, wait for the hurricane to hit and hope for the best.

    "At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do: board up the windows, put sand to block the water and hopefully that's it," Medina said. "Hopefully you survive."

    ABC News' Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

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