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Miami Beach Officials Declare Spring Break State of Emergency, Police Unable to Control Crowds

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Law enforcement officials in the City of Miami Beach announced Saturday afternoon they will enforce a nightly curfew and highway shutdowns as they struggle to control spring break crowds.

Miami Beach police are set to enforce an 8 p.m. curfew effective Saturday night that includes areas within Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue and Española Way, from 5th to 16th Street. Mayor Dan Gelber and City Manager Raul J. Aguila held a press conference where they relayed the extreme difficulty officers from several departments are having trying to contain this year’s spring break crowds. Sidewalk cafes, beaches and public areas are set to close across the entire city. Hotel guests are not being told to vacate, but city officials urged them to remain on hotel property after curfew Saturday night.

Bridges going into Miami Beach will be shut down at 10 p.m. Saturday night as part of the mayor’s state of emergency plans. Gelber described the city as “under siege” from an influx of restless spring breakers last week, prompting city officials to suggest it is the result of more than one year of ongoing pandemic lockdowns throughout much of the rest of the country.

“This was not an easy decision to make,” Aguila said Saturday, outlining the new restrictions amid ongoing COVID-19 pandemic concerns. “But you saw the photos from last night. It was quite simply overwhelming. It looked like a rock concert: You couldn’t see pavement and you couldn’t see grass.”

All restrictions are in place for at least 72 hours, city officials said, noting that rules may be modified or added at the end of that time period depending on people’s response. Mayor Gelber said he believes that the particularly rowdy spring break vacationers packed onto the beaches and into restaurants are there because “very few places in the country are open” outside South Florida.

“I love that this is a beautiful place, that people come here to gather and enjoy our weather and our beaches,” Mayor Gelber said at a press conference Saturday when the measures were announced. “But right now, it has become too challenging in the tourism industry to continue that way.”

Last weekend, Miami Beach police pepper-sprayed spring breakers they described as “unruly,” racking up at least 100 arrests in just one night.

“If you have 50 or 100,000 people coming there and just half of 1 percent are rowdy or drunk or high to the point where they need to be controlled, it becomes a situation which is truly chaotic and unmanageable,” Gelber said during a virtual city commissioner meeting Wednesday.

Over the past week, local police from several departments have used crowd control tactics to disperse tens of thousands of college-age guests as well as families flocking to resorts for deals.

The Liberty Buzz reached out to the Miami Beach office of the mayor as well as local law enforcement agencies for additional remarks Saturday afternoon.

Beach goers pictured on March 4 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where college students have begun arriving for the annual spring break celebrations. City officials fear the crowds could spark a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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