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September 7, 2017 3:19 pm

Key West Rabbi Readies for Hurricane Irma, Fears Potential Loss of Life in Florida

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Rabbi Zucker, center, getting help covering Torahs ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Irma in Florida. Photo: Provided.

A rabbi in Key West, Florida expressed the fears shared by many local residents on Wednesday as Hurricane Irma approached the area, and detailed the measures he was taking to prepare for the Category 5 storm.

“The town is panicking,” Rabbi Yaakov Zucker, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of the Florida Keys and Key West, told The Algemeiner. “There are long lines for gas, which keeps on running out. This morning there’s already no water or cans…The town [of Key West] pretty much ran out of most items that we need in a hurricane at this point and the trucks that were supposed to bring more stuff did not show up according to the people in Publix [a local supermarket] and other supermarkets here.”

He added, “Even if [Irma] hits the Middle Keys, we’ll still get a lot of trouble here. And if the highway gets flooded there’s only one lane out of town, so it could get interesting, especially with no electricity here, and it could take a while to get provisions down here, especially after the storm.”

The Florida Keys — a string of tropical islands off the southern tip of the Sunshine State — could get hit hard by Irma, if the forecasts hold true, and evacuations have been ordered there.

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For people who choose to remain in the area, Zucker cautioned, the repercussions could be deadly. He told The Algemeiner he was seriously worried about any elderly or other “vulnerable” people who did not leave.

He explained, “For Hurricane Wilma [in 2005], homes flooded up to the roof. People had to go on the roofs to get saved and for older people and obviously younger children it’s tough to do all that and it can definitely happen in this hurricane if it comes directly at us. So I’m very worried about these vulnerable people who are not on high ground and they’re in flimsy structures that could be destroyed. I’m definitely afraid for loss of life for those that stay behind.”

The rabbi has invited those who remain in the Key West area to stay at the Chabad House, which he called a “hurricane 5 stage shelter, if you will.” According to Zucker, it was built above the flood level and is “one of the strongest buildings in town.”

Zucker was already in “high gear” preparing the Chabad House for Irma by collecting all loose objects and storing them; taking off the awnings of the playground and mikvah; and stocking up on necessary provisions, such as water, batteries and canned goods.

Still, he was encouraging local residents to leave town if they could. The rabbi told The Algemeiner he and his family might evacuate as well.

“We’re arranging rides for people and also [finding] places in Miami for them to stay once they leave town,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure that the elderly have somewhere to stay and if they’re evacuating to Miami that they have rides. With all that, if the hurricane continues to come directly to the Keys and Key West, [my family and I] will probably leave. I’m not gonna put my wife and kids through this. We were hit with so many hurricanes, including Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and we had water in the house and it wasn’t a pretty sight.”

He concluded by saying: “I told all my people, please, if you can get out of the town please do and if not we’re all gonna help each other get out of town. Whoever has room in their cars or etcetera, please let me know and we’re already arranging different rides for different people to leave. Because either way, it’ll be safer inland, regardless of what happens here. We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”

Rabbi Zucker helping to remove the awning of the mikvah at his Chabad Jewish Center of the Florida Keys and Key West. Photo: Provided.

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