Approach of Irma empties Trump's winter White House – Financial Times


Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s so-called “winter White House” resort in Palm Beach, has been ordered to evacuate all staff and residents as the exclusive barrier island in Florida prepared for the prospect of a direct hit from Hurricane Irma

It was unclear how many people remained in the ornate property out of season, but Palm Beach authorities said that a mandatory evacuation was in effect and residents had to leave by Friday at 5pm local time. About 5.6m people in Florida have been ordered to evacuate, while people in Georgia have also been told to leave their homes, in the face of what the president called “a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential”.

Despite the evacuation order set on Thursday, the mood outside the members-only club was peaceful, with just three plain-clothed police officers standing at one of the resort’s main entrances.

Most of the neighbouring villas were either already boarded up with strong metal sheets or were in the process of being boarded up. 

The tranquility surrounding the 90-year-old estate was in sharp contrast to the frantic efforts being made by many residents in other high-risk areas of South Florida.

People along the east coast of the state are scrambling for shelters or waiting in long queues at petrol stations to fill up their tanks. Others are driving for hours across town to find affordable water and bread, which was running out in many local stores.

The Publix supermarket in Palm Beach run out of all water and fresh bread by Thursday afternoon, while several gas stations had run out of regular fuel. 

“You can rest assured that everything will be fine at Trump’s house,” said Maria, a shopper outside Publix, who did not want to reveal her surname. “We should be worrying about regular people . . . they will suffer.”

Mr Trump’s resort in Florida, which boasts membership costs of $200,000, has been the scene of high diplomacy this year as the US president hosted world leaders including Japan’s Shinzo Abe and China’s Xi Jinping. 

The US president has three other resorts in the path of the storm. The Trump National Doral Miami golf hotel, which is inland close to the international airport, is still open and at full capacity, according to a receptionist at the resort.

Meanwhile, the Trump International Golf Club, Palm Beach and Trump National Golf Club, Jupiter are closed. 

“Our teams at our four properties in Florida are taking all of the proper precautions and are following local and Florida State Advisories very closely to help ensure that everyone is kept safe and secure,” a Trump Organization spokesperson told CBS News. 

Hurricane Irma, which is expected to make landfall in South Florida near Florida City as a Category 4 storm in the early hours of Sunday, has already torn apart a $17m property owned by Mr Trump in the Caribbean, where it has claimed the lives of at least 17 people. 

Mar-a-Lago, which was acquired by Mr Trump as a private residence in 1985 before being turned into a club a decade later, is expected to survive the 150mph winds thanks to its solid Italian stone construction. But flooding could inflict serious damage to the exterior of the luxury resort. 

The National Hurricane Center warned on Friday afternoon that parts of the east coast were vulnerable to eight to 12-foot storm surges and could see a foot or more of rain. 

If the US president’s properties incur significant damage he will be able to take advantage of emergency government funding. Congress approved an aid package on Friday after Mr Trump struck an unexpected deal with Democratic leaders to tie the hurricane relief with a measure to raise the debt ceiling for three months — a move opposed by 90 Republican lawmakers.

At Palm Beach International Airport on Friday afternoon, the scene was orderly given the circumstances. Roads to the airport, including the Florida Turnpike heading northbound, were fairly clear, and the wait at security was par for the course.

The most notable difference involved an unusually large canine presence. Airline officials said that, because of the emergency, the number on dogs allowed on each flight had been increased.

As a result, the sounds at the airport included enough barking to make waiting passengers feel as they had by accident entered into the dog racing track across the street from the airport in southern Florida.

Kim-Renée, a south Florida real estate agent who declined to give her surname, said she had booked a flight to New York with her maltipoo, Bacardi, because of Irma’s anticipated severity.

“This storm is seemingly unprecedented,” she said while cradling her dog in the crowded Jet Blue waiting area at the West Palm Beach airport. “I have been through hurricanes before and it’s not fun.”

She said she anticipated spending a couple of days at a New York airport hotel that allowed dogs, but was looking forward to her return home. 

“There is no reason for me to be in New York except for the storm,” she said, adding: “It’s tough to travel with a dog.”

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