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The Iconic Art Deco Hotels Of South Beach Are Boarded Up Awaiting Irma

The neighborhood's famed buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and are right in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Posted on September 8, 2017, at 7:50 a.m. ET

Miami's famed art deco district in South Beach usually throngs with tourists — but on Thursday afternoon, the area was near empty and the iconic hotels boarded up, after a mandatory evacuation was issued in anticipation of Hurricane Irma.

Amber Jamieson for BuzzFeed News

"This is a serious storm. I've called it a nuclear hurricane," Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said on Thursday. "I want people to understand this is not something you want to ride through, not something you want to be in your house or apartment for."

"There will not be public services available," he said. "You will be on your own. It's not a place you want to be. I can't stress it enough. Get off Miami beach."

On Thursday afternoon, only a few dozen people remained on the beach.

Miami Beach on Thursday afternoon. I suspect it is normally a little busier than this.

The picture above is of South Beach.

Locals Brian Russell and Claudia Cerda, who live three blocks back from the beach in a second-floor apartment, had just been for a swim and were still trying to decide their hurricane plans.

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“We haven’t made a decision yet. This would be our first endeavor into a hurricane so we’re kinda playing it by ear at this point,” said Russell.

They were considering jumping in their car and driving to Atlanta or Panama City, leaving at 2 a.m. to try and miss traffic.

"We’re kind of adventurous people but I don't know how adventurous we want to get with this storm. It’s pretty scary for both of us. We’re going to see, and if we have to buckle down and ride it out, we’ll try our best," said Russell.

Cerda works at the front desk of the Victor Hotel on Ocean Drive, and said on Thursday night they'd warned all guests they had 24 hours to evacuate. She said the hotel would close until Monday.

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"The flip side of that is if we leave and can't come back here [due to flooding or roads being closed], potentially she’s going to lose her job. It’s a really tough decision, that’s why we’re trying to balance the pros and the cons," said Russell.

"Unfortunately the mortgage companies aren't located in a hurricane zone so they don't care about whether you can get to work or not,” he added.

Miami Beach's Art Deco Historic District is made up of over 800 buildings and structures built in the 1920s, 30s and early 40s. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world.

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Although the streets were mostly bare, some tourists still tried to soak up the architecture, including a pair of newlyweds whose marriage is off to a stormy start.

Amber Jamieson for BuzzFeed News

“We’re honeymooning in the middle of the hurricane,” Kina Hopkins, 35, a nursing assistant from Columbus, Ohio, told BuzzFeed News.

“There was rain on our wedding day,” laughed her new wife, Arwyn Hopkins, 37, who works in Social Security claims.

The couple had gotten married last Saturday in Columbus and have loved their Miami trip (they leave on Friday) despite the hurricane stress.

"I've never seen blue water before so it’s been perfect,” said Arwyn. “The only drawback has been no gasoline. We've had to conserve it."

Most South Beach buildings had either metal or wooden boards screwed onto the windows of the ground floor.

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Mango's Tropical Cafe, a famous Latino restaurant and nightclub on Ocean Drive, wrote "Mangos will be open after Irma" across its boarded front gate.

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The Gama family from Lisbon, Portugal, had flown over to Florida for a four-day cruise in the Bahamas and Key West, and a visit to Miami. Their cruise was cut short a day and was mostly spent waiting for a dock at Nassau in the Bahamas, before returning immediately to Miami.

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The Gamas tried to leave Miami but couldn't find a good option to get out.

"We didn’t know where to go, just run away? We were worried there was no fuel in the gas stations, no food, no water, so I couldn’t just get in the car with three girls," said father Mario, 53, who works in bank.

Now along with wife Patricia, 38 and daughters Beatriz, 16 and Barbara, 18, the family will spend the hurricane at a hotel near Miami International Airport.

One South Beach restaurant, Grillfish, was boarded up but still open. The main part of the restaurant used in the summer was closed, but they were able to continue to serve customers seafood and steaks at a side bar and restaurant.

Amber Jamieson for BuzzFeed News

Everything on the menu was available Thursday night, minus the Red Snapper, with wait staff saying they planned to close the restaurant from Friday.

Amber Jamieson/BuzzFeed News

The weather was blue sky sunshine, but the usually packed streets were empty.

Amber Jamieson/BuzzFeed News

Workers still busily boarded up restaurants on Thursday afternoon.

Amber Jamieson/BuzzFeed News

And locals drove and rode around taking photos of the suddenly quiet streets.

Amber Jamieson/BuzzFeed News

Maria Morillo, 46, who lives just four blocks back from the beach, has stayed for past hurricanes but “this time it’s just too big of a storm," she told BuzzFeed News.

Amber Jamieson for BuzzFeed News

"It’s scary and even my neighbor who stays every single time is leaving. Everyone is getting inland or out of here,” said Morillo, who works in a bank downtown and was flying out of Miami on Friday.

Morillo said after becoming worried watching all the media reports of the storm, she decided to go out for a walk in her neighborhood "to get some fresh air and see people."

"Now that I’m looking at everything shut down, it’s even scarier," she said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.