By Maria Caspani
(Reuters) – As spring break crowds wreaked havoc in one of the most popular U.S. party destinations, many Miami Beach locals took to social media to blame out-of-towners for the chaos.
Thousands of revelers have descended on the south Florida city in recent days, eager to let off steam after a year of lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Responding to “multiple fights, brawls, melees, and other public displays and disturbances of the peace”, the city declared a state of emergency on Saturday, imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on its main entertainment district, and restricted eastbound travel on the causeways linking it to the mainland.
“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.
Video and photos posted on social media showed thousands of mostly maskless spring breakers packed together and dancing in the streets as police struggled to enforce the curfew in a so-called High Impact Zone around the city’s popular Ocean Drive.
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 immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under the new order, officers blocked off the Art Deco historic district at 8 p.m. and all businesses inside the zone were forced to close, Interim City Manager Raul Aguila told reporters on Saturday.
The three main causeways connecting the city with downtown Miami were closed to eastbound traffic from 9 p.m., except to residents, hotel guests and people traveling to work.
“I think the volume (of visitors) is clearly more than it’s been in previous years and that, I think, is in part due to the fact that there are very few places open elsewhere in the country,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said.
The curfew measures are in effect for at least 72 hours. City officials will meet on Sunday to decide whether to extend them.
Concerns over public safety prompted some businesses to voluntarily close their doors 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. The Miami Herald said it was Ocean Drive’s longest continuously open establishment.
“Recently, we have grown increasingly concerned with the safety of our dedicated employees and valued customers and the ability of the City to maintain a safe environment in the surrounding area,” the hotel said in a statement.
In a Twitter video, Miami podcaster Derek Lane gave a couple of reasons why he shared the belief that locals were not responsible for the raucous scenes – including the weather.
“One: We don’t like South Beach. We ain’t impressed by that,” Lane said in the video posted on Saturday. “That’s for the out-of-towners. Two: last night it was 60 degrees in Miami!”