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State Rep. Vicki Lopez knew  catastrophe was in the making when it took her an hour Sunday afternoon to get from the Rusty Pelican to her Brickell apartment because the flyover ramps from Rickenbacker Causeway were closed for repair.

“I understood what a disaster this was going to be once people started coming off the island when the sun would set,” she said.

Not even Lopez could imagine a traffic jam so epic that it put historic backups from music festivals at Miami Marine Stadium to shame. Traffic reached into Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and spread out to Key Biscayne streets where motorists were stuck for hours.

Closing the Rickenbacker flyovers created a trap for all those who came to Virginia Key, Key Biscayne or Bill Baggs on Sunday. They could come in, but they could not get out. 

Traffic at at absolute standstill on Crandon Boulevard in Key Biscayne, April 14, 2024 (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

“It was like when you see the movies, and there were just random cars everywhere,” said Kira Grossman, a Key Biscayne resident who administers a WhatsApp chat on traffic issues. Drivers eventually returned to their vehicles because Police Chief Frank Sousa said there was not an issue of cars left unattended once daylight hit.

So what do you do during an apocalypse? Apparently you sing, dance and eat. 

Some motorists took to the streets, creating conga lines and belting out songs, according to videos on social media. Many of the stranded ended up at local restaurants and flooded the Winn-Dixie grocery store where photos showed another traffic jam of sorts — this one made of grocery carts.

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“It’s like the end of the world right now,” Christina Gonzalez Hammoud of Miami posted on her Instagram account from inside Winn-Dixie.

“People were eating in the parking lots, on the streets, in front of Winn-Dixie,” Grossman said.

Sir Pizza ran out of dough. “It was really good for business but it was a mess,” said Eddy Rivera, who works at the restaurant. 

Max Waicman, owner of Milanezza restaurant, said business was up 10% but it was a tough Sunday night. “The issue was that everbody came in at the same time and stayed longer. This traffic is not good for Key Biscayne,” he said.

Then there were those desperate to make their flights at Miami International Airport. Some started hoofing it for miles, luggage in tow. “I do know of someone who jumped on an e-bike with their luggage and that’s how they made their flight,” Grossman said.

Residents Jackie and Lili Warner Hardie delivered water and oranges to stranded motorists, weaving around traffic with backpacks to grateful and desperate motorists like they did when they were kids and the drawbridge was stuck. 

“It made me feel better than staying home and feeling worried,” Kellogg said.

Then there were the road refugees. Residents took in beleaguered families afraid of running out of gas.

“I had seven children and their parents at my house until 12:30 in the morning,” Grossman said. 

Lopez ended up contacting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. The Florida Department of Transportation reversed course Monday and opened up the on-ramp to I-95 north. The southbound lane to U.S. 1 was expected to be open Tuesday.

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.