Miami Beach extends emergency as pandemic-weary tourists party on

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The US city of Miami Beach, overrun by crowds of excited spring break tourists, has extended its state of emergency as it struggles to contain the chaos amid the coronavirus pandemic, with hundreds of arrests.

Commissioners on Sunday authorized the city manager Raul Aguila to keep the emergency in place until April 13, when the annual university vacation period that draws thousands of students to the small island off Miami in south Florida ends.

A city spokeswoman told AFP on Monday that the extension will come in one week increments.

Every year the crowds are problematic, but this time they appear to be much larger than normal, something Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber blames on the fact that tourists looking to flee the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have few other options.

He also speculated that hotel and airfare prices, both reduced by the pandemic, and the fact that many are driving in from neighboring states, had contributed to the chaos.

"These aren't your spring breakers," Aguila said.

Video and photos on social media show half-naked women twerking on the roofs of cars, men offering them wads of bills and a crowd of tourists huddled side by side, dancing and passing bottles from hand to hand -- plus brawls, gunshots fired in the air and encounters with police.

Since February 3, 80 weapons have been confiscated and 1,000 arrests made, 350 of them for felonies, the city's executive order states.

On Saturday Aguila imposed a nighttime curfew on the most touristy streets of South Beach, the epicenter of the party, and ordered the closure of the three bridges that connect the island with Miami from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am.

But the measures, which are valid from Thursday through Monday, are not easy to implement.

On Saturday and Sunday nights, images were seen of dozens of police cars trying to evict the crowd of revelers, sometimes throwing pepper spray projectiles.

Meanwhile, the bridges -- to which only residents, workers and hotel guests have access at night -- registered endless lines due to the slowness of the controls, and some residents took hours to cross a 10-minute stretch.

The island of just 92,000 people attracts 200,000 visitors and workers every day, Gelber said last week.

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