Miami Beach officials voted on Sunday to extend an 8 p.m. curfew and emergency powers for up to three weeks to help control unruly and mostly maskless crowds that have converged on the party destination during spring break.
Thousands of people have packed the city's Art Deco Cultural District causing bedlam and lawlessness in recent days when university students typically celebrate spring break, leading some businesses to close voluntarily out of concern for public safety.
Mayor Dan Gelber told an emergency meeting of the city commission that all manner of out-of-town and out-of-state visitors, not just college students, were filling the streets since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Feb. 26 called the state an "oasis of freedom" from coronavirus restrictions. "It looked like a rock concert. All you could see was wall to wall people," Interim City Manager Raul Aguila told the commission.
"This is not a typical spring break crowd. ... These are individuals coming into the city ... to engage in lawlessness and anything goes party attitude," Aguila said.
Aguila said he noticed a surge on Friday night and imposed emergency powers on Saturday. That included authorities setting a curfew and closing streets in the area, citing in an emergency declaration "multiple fights, brawls, melees, and other public displays and disturbances of the peace."
Officials also restricted eastbound traffic on the three main causeways connecting the city with downtown Miami.
The commission on Sunday agreed to grant Aguila the authority to extend the measures for up to three more seven-day periods as needed, starting on Tuesday.
Video and photos posted on social media showed thousands of spring breakers, many eager to let off steam after a year of COVID-19 lockdowns, packed together and dancing in the streets as police struggled to enforce the curfew.
Local media said it took officers two hours to clear the area, and that at points they fired pepperballs at the crowd. Video showed people stampeding to get away.
The Miami Beach Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Gelber said the mass crowds gathered at a time when the surrounding county was experiencing 1,000 new infections of COVID-19 each day and with 50 to 100 people being hospitalized each day.
Many Miami Beach locals took to social media to blame out-of-towners for the chaos.
"Don't blame Miami for those crowds on South Beach. Nobody who's from Miami goes to South Beach," one Twitter user named Silas P. Silas wrote, eliciting approval from fellow residents.
"Lived in Miami my whole life and minus going out for brunch or dinner on South Beach with friends which I haven't done in a year I tend to stay away especially when there are crowds," said another Twitter user, Pamela Amy.
Concerns over public safety prompted some businesses to close their doors voluntarily during what would normally be among their most profitable days of the year and after months of hardship caused by the pandemic.
The storied Clevelander South Beach hotel said it was halting its food and beverage operations until at least Wednesday to protect the safety of its staff and customers. The Miami Herald said it was Ocean Drive's longest continuously open establishment. (Reporting by Maria Caspani and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Daniel Wallis)