Israeli rescue teams departed Saturday night for Miami ahead of Hurricane Irma, which began ravaging South Florida on Sunday.
The mission, organized by the Israel Rescue Coalition (IRC), an umbrella group of rescue groups that includes United Hatzalah. The Coalition, which sent a psychotrauma crisis and response unit to Houston, Texas last month, said in a release that volunteers would administer first aid and assist Jewish communities in the aftermath of the storm.
“Our job as volunteers will be to help the community and deal with the situation as best we can in the absence of American officials, until they arrive," said Moti Elmaliah, a spokesman for the IRC. “We will take care to organize residents’ committees to deal with the issues that arise from Hurricane Irma, which has been classified as the most powerful storm ever to hit the Atlantic Ocean.”
Some 650,000 Jews live in Florida, the third largest Jewish community in the United States. But ahead of the storm, many had left town as South Florida became a virtual ghost town. Drone footage of the city’s downtown area and Miami Beach showed empty streets and beaches. In total, nearly 7 million people were ordered to evacuate, and local and federal officials warned that residents who refused to leave their homes would “be on their own” in what the National Hurricane Center called a “life-threatening situation.”
“This is a deadly storm, and our state has never seen anything like it,” said Governor Rick Scott Saturday. “It’s going to be very difficult to survive this if you’re in the Keys. I’m begging you to get out.”
FEMA chief Brock Long added that the damage expected by the storm would prevent rescue teams from reaching affected areas. “You’re on your own until we can actually get in there, and it’s safe for our teams to support local and state efforts,” FEMA said in a statement reported by the Miami Herald. “The message has been clear—the Keys are going to be impacted, there is no safe area within the Keys, and you put your life in your own hands by not evacuating."
To deal with the situation, synagogues out of the expected path of the hurricane prepared to host individuals and families fleeing the storm.