Traffic jam nightmares as Irma nears Florida

As Hurricane Irma drew closer to South Florida on Thursday, tens of thousands of drivers headed northward to flee the storm, causing a traffic nightmare that continued into the evening.

"There was no gas and it's gridlock. People are stranded on the sides of the highway," Mari Michaud, a Florida resident who left her home near Cocoa Beach about 10 a.m. with her husband and two children, told the Associated Press. "It's 92 degrees out and little kids are out on the grass on the side of the road. No one can help them."

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, traffic doubled and even tripled on major roadways and interstates, according to the Florida Department of Transportation, the Miami Herald reported.  

The shortage of gas, coupled with a lack of hotel rooms and sold-out flights created a traffic disaster, as more than a half-million people were ordered to leave South Florida on Thursday.

Noel Marsden said he, his girlfriend, her son and their dog left Pembroke Pines north of Miami with plans to ride out Irma in Savannah, Ga., only to find the city was also shutting down because of Irma. Marsden wasn't sure where they'd all end up.

"I've got a buddy in Atlanta and a buddy in Charlotte. We'll wind up one of those two places because there are not hotels, I can tell you that," he said.

Emergency managers in South Florida were taking an evacuation approach similar to that used by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner during Hurricane Harvey -- encouraging residents to leave areas east of Interstate 95, and stay in shelters or with friends and family inland, as opposed to putting millions more vehicles on the road, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Hurricane Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, is feared to hit Florida on Sunday. The category 5 storm has already barreled into the Caribbean, leaving a trail of death and destruction.

The Florida Keys and other parts of South Florida -- including the Miami area -- received their first hurricane warning late Thursday from the National Hurricane Center. There was also an added storm suge warning and extended watch areas along the east and west coasts.  

Florida Gov. Scott has continually stressed the severity of the storm and the importance to follow evacuation orders.

"If you're told to evacuate, get out quickly," Scott said at a briefing Wednesday night. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.