Evacuees face a desperate plight at Florida shelters as Irma strikes

Many people heading for shelters were simply unable to evacuate, rather than unwilling, in the final hours before Hurricane Irma hit on Sunday

As Hurricane Irma made its final advance on Naples, a metropolitan area of about 320,000 people on the west coast of Florida, the impact of the storm could already be seen – though much more was on its way.

Trees were down across some of the main highways through the town and billboards had collapsed, forming heaps of twisted metal beside the road.

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Irma had slowed, delaying its terrifying impact on towns and cities up and down the Gulf coast. That meant police cars ordered off the streets on Saturday night could come back out to patrol, to offer reassurance.

But the desperation of thousands of local people was palpable, particularly in the shelters that had been opened for those exposed to the mighty winds and dangerous tidal storm surge that was imminent.

Across Florida, authorities said 127,000 people had entered such facilities instead of evacuating, as around seven million people had managed to do, answering dire warnings from government, law enforcement and emergency services. Many heading for the shelters were simply unable to evacuate, rather than unwilling. In Naples, hundreds only managed to find refuge in the final hours before Irma was scheduled to strike. They had dramatic stories to tell.

At the First Baptist Church of Naples, about 200 people converged on the premises on Saturday night after the pastors opened their doors as a last-minute decision at 5pm. Several of the evacuees were facing a desperate plight.

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