How Tampa Bay residents should prepare for Irma

Minor flooding in between high tides in Gulfport, Florida, before Tropical Storm Hermine. By Seán Kinane - 21 August 2016.

As Florida prepares for Hurricane Irma, several Tampa Bay area school districts have announced school closings.

Here are the districts that are closed Thursday and Friday:

Hillsborough County

Pinellas County

Hernando County

Here are the school districts that are closed Friday:

Sarasota County

Manatee County

Polk County

Pasco County

The University of Tampa will close from Thursday through Monday.

For more on how you should be preparing for Hurricane Irma, WMNF News spoke with Irena Karolak, senior public information coordinator for Pinellas County.

“We’re still recommending to closely monitor the Hurricane Irma. We are advising them to stay updated on the weather and make sure their plans are in place. Now is the time to review their preparedness plans and finalize them. Also, to check their evacuation zone. They need to know where they need to evacuate if there is an evacuation order in place, either for Hurricane Irma or any storm. We are in the peak of the hurricane season, so there are many reasons to prepare.”

Some people might be new residents to Pinellas, they might not know where the most dangerous places are. What are some communities, in Pinellas County, where people should especially be prepared for wet weather or for a storm surge, etc.?

“And I think that begins with knowing what your evacuation zone is and that way you can plan ahead. If you are not in an evacuation zone, then of course, you can decide to stay home and make sure that you have a preparedness kit. But, if you are in Evacuation Zone A, then you need to make plans in place of where you would evacuate. Evacuation zones are based on a storm surge, so, those things are very important for you to know which evacuation zone you are in; that’s your first step.”

And that would be on a website?

“Yes. All you have to do is enter your address and it will tell you which evacuation zone you’re in, what are the nearest shelters in your area, what are the nearest hotels in your area, so you can make appropriate plans if there’s a need for them.”

So, what are some areas that are especially vulnerable?

“If you’re Evacuation A, then you are living in coastal areas; so all of the beaches. You are living in a mobile home park; we always evacuate for a mobile home park if there is an evacuation order, it will be for a mobile home park because of the winds. Of course there’s some low-lying areas we’ve seen during Hurricane Hermine and the coastal areas are in danger of a storm surge.

“There’s also a flood information page that also can tell you what your flood risk is. So, we advise our residents to go to our On there they will be able to see what their flood risk is. There’s also an application where they can enter their address and they can see what the storm surge possibilities are, depending on the category of the storm. So, there’s a lot of tools to give you the best information so you can make the best decision.”

And just to be clear, as of right now, there’s no evacuation orders.

“Correct. There are no evacuation orders. But, it’s always a good time for residents to know what their evacuation orders are, what their flood risks are, what the possible storm surge levels are. As I said, we are in the peak of the hurricane season, so now is a good time to prepare. The track of Hurricane Irma is still unpredictable and uncertain, so residents just need to prepare.”

And finally, I want to ask about stormwater and sewage. In the past hurricanes and tropical storms, there’s been some discharges from Pinellas County utilities. How well prepared is Pinellas County right now to handle all the stormwater?

“The Pinellas County crews are monitoring the levels. They’re monitoring the hotspots in Pinellas County and making sure that those are OK. And then, we’re also advising our residents to know how to use the water during these types of times. Maybe restrict their extra water use, so if there are additional rainfalls, the system will be able to handle it. But, our Pinellas County utilities crews, Public Works crews, emergency crews, they’re all working together to make sure that everything is in place, in case there’s a storm impacting us.”

Is there anything else that our listeners should know about this hurricane?

“We just remind our residents to review and finalize their preparedness plans. Sign up for Alert Pinellas, so they can receive emergency notifications and also, we have a great Ready Pinellas app that can help them with emergency preparedness, before a storm or as the storm approaches and that’s available for a free download.

“But, again, we just want our residents to be prepared: check their evacuation zones, know which way they will receive emergency notifications and stay tuned for weather updates. We have a hashtag assigned through social media, it’s #pinellasirma and we’re posting a lot of preparedness tips there and information as it becomes available. And get your survival kit and important papers ready. Now is the time to purchase any items you may need. I know there are some long lines, but, now is the time to review what you already have and purchase what you still need.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn declared state of emergency, but there are no evacuations ordered yet for Tampa. Hillsborough County also declared a local state of emergency.

Two tweets this morning from Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd have caused some consternation on social media.

In one he wrote:
“If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed”

In another:

“If you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we’ll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail”

Some people replied that that might cause individuals with outstanding warrants to stay in harm’s way rather than go to a shelter.


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