As Hurricane Irma barreled through the Caribbean laying waste to all centers of population in its path, opportunities arose for those with criminal intent.
After the storm basically leveled the tiny island of Barbuda leaving much of the Island’s 1600 residents homeless the category five storm continued further west wreaking havoc on Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barts and the Virgin Islands. Up to ninety percent of the domestic and commercial structures on these islands were badly damaged or completely destroyed.
The storm then skimmed the northern coast of Puerto Rico producing a loss of power for more than one million of its residents but spared the island nation of its total force before setting its sights on the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Turks and Caicos along with the southernmost Bahamian Islands. It then grazed the coast of Cuba alternating between Category four and five status with its center of destruction correctly forecasted to turn north threatening the Florida Keys and the east coast of the state.
More than thirty deaths were reported by the time Irma left the Caribbean.
The center of the storm first made U.S. landfall at Cudjoe Key, just east of Key West early Sunday morning on September 10th. The storm came ashore with sustained winds of 130 mph and a category four status. Its brief interaction with Cuba slightly weakened the storm and kept it on a westward trajectory long enough to turn the fierce juggernaut into what now appeared to show that it would miss the east coast of Florida directly, and a possible worst case scenario for the citizens living on the east coast.
Although it didn’t hit Miami directly, the devastation was still massive.
Its second Florida landfall was a direct strike to Marco Island on Florida’s west coast as a Category three storm about six hours after it pummeled the Keys and most major cities along both coasts of the peninsula.
Wind gusts of up to 100 miles per hour were felt across the entire state as Irma continued its northward movement.
By the time Irma left the state more than half of residents were left without power and property damage was extensive. The storm was also responsible for at least eight deaths with the final tallies still not in.
There were mandatory evacuations in low lying coastal areas in addition to all of the Florida Keys. And of course many decided to leave their properties of their own volition instead of trying to ride out the storm.
In addition to the damage that was caused by the storm, looting and burglaries were reported throughout the state.
In one situation a SWAT team was called in when witnesses called police after a burglary was in progress at an Orlando sporting goods store near the Mall at Millenia.
Soon after the SWAT team arrived it became apparent to them that the perpetrators were in the process of stealing firearms. When confronted by SWAT, one of the suspects immediately surrendered but the second man barricaded himself on the premises. The SWAT team then used gas to finally subdue the remaining suspect ending the standoff.
In the Miami-Dade, Fort Lauderdale area dozens of people were arrested by police for looting evacuated houses and businesses. In one case, in what seemed to be a coordinated effort nine suspects were taken into custody after being caught on camera breaking into Simon’s Sportswear in Fort Lauderdale. Despite strong winds and heavy rain, the suspects were seen going in and out of the store through broken windows carrying pilfered merchandise. The entire episode was filmed by a local reporter’s camera crew.
The bust was posted on Twitter by the Fort Lauderdale PD and can be found by clicking this link. The video was posted on WPLG Local 10 News’ Twitter feed and can be seen it its entirety by clicking here.
One response to the video read: “I’m pretty sure that isn’t water and necessities they are taking” under the hashtag #humansbehavingbadly.
Social media played a big part in many other arrests when everyday citizens and news reporters used it to notify authorities as well as showing real-time detailed pictures and video as the storm swept through the state.
This page on the Palm Beach Post’s Website gives a detailed look at Irma captured by the press and other Social Media users. One story shows a Good Samaritan from a Miami Bakery giving out free coffee as people waited in line for gasoline. The owner of the bakery was quoted as saying “we’re a community bakery and we love most of the people here in line and we know them well.” The article also gives a further comic tilt to the ongoing calamity.
Law enforcement also used Facebook, Twitter and other online sites to warn potential looters of the penalties for breaking the law. They also warned about price gouging to those who still had electricity and Internet service as the storm roared on.
A member of the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office posted the following on Twitter: “I have said over and over that we will not tolerate looting or price gouging.” All of his tweets posted before, during and after the storm can be found by clicking this link.
A good article on the dailymail.co.uk’s Website that goes into further detail of the many arrests that were made during the storm can be found here. Personal stories from those who went through the storm as well as current updates can be found on Twitter by clicking here.
If you, a friend or family member is facing charges that may relate to burglary or looting call now for a free consultation and case evaluation. Mr. Cohen’s complete attorney profile can be viewed by clicking here.
Michael Cohen is a Fort Lauderdale based Criminal Defense Attorney committed to the robust defense of all criminal allegations. Formerly working as an Assistant United States Attorney and an Assistant State Attorney for Broward County he prosecuted cases for the government; now practicing as a criminal defense attorney to the public for the past seventeen years.