Manatee County officials did not order evacuations from flood-prone areas in their briefing on Hurricane Irma this afternoon, but with tropical force winds expected to arrive Saturday, the order may come sometime Friday, Sept. 7.
“Monitor weather reports, local media, and county social media for updates,” said Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Sherilyn Burris, who announced a state of emergency countywide earlier today. “Residents in low-lying areas or mobile homes should be ready to evacuate if the notice comes.”
The decision to evacuate is based on the probability of storm surge, she said, adding that it is not as easy as forecasting winds.
The final criterion in the decision to require evacuations is “When it is more safe to leave than it is to stay,” she said.
Hurricane Irma is a Category 5 storm with sustained wind speeds of 185 mph, headed towards Florida sometime Sunday or Monday, according to Manatee County Public Safety Director Bob Smith.
Up to 9 feet of storm surge is possible along the Gulf coast, with 10-15 inches of rain from Central to South Florida, he said. Tropical storm force winds could arrive locally as early as Saturday.
“There’s a lot of tension out in the community. There’s fear now, and it will only get worse,” Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said, calling for calm and civility. “We think we should survive this. It will be a challenge, but if we all work together it will be alright.”
Manatee County Schools will be closed on Friday in order to prepare to open as shelters if necessary, according to Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene.
The Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court also will be closed on Friday, as government employees transition to their emergency response duties.
Manatee County offices including the Property Appraiser and the Supervisor of Elections will close at noon on Friday.
The county bus system will be operational through Friday, with drivers transporting special needs residents to medical appointments, but when winds reach 35-40 mph, county vehicles will be grounded, Hunzeker said.
Fort Hamer Bridge, scheduled to open to traffic on Sept. 23, will open temporarily to accommodate traffic related to the storm at 6 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 8. Public Works Director Ron Schulhofer said the bridge is safe for vehicle traffic but it will close Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 8 p.m. to complete the project.
Trash pickup on Saturday is uncertain, depending on winds.
The Snooty Memorial Open House scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 10, at the South Florida Museum has been postponed until Sunday, Sept. 24, from noon to 5 p.m.
Sandbags are available from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday at the following locations:
• Buffalo Creek Park – 7550 69th St. E., Palmetto
• G.T. Bray Park – 5502 33rd Ave. Dr. W., Bradenton
• Lakewood Ranch Park – 5350 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Bradenton
• Stormwater Ops – 5511 39th St. E., Bradenton
• Rubonia Community Center – 1309 72nd St. E., Palmetto
Senators call for aid
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are calling on Senate leaders to include additional funding in a $7.85 billion Hurricane Harvey disaster aid package the House passed today to “account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma.”
The senators wrote Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer in part: “…We are deeply concerned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not have the resources it needs to respond if Congress doesn’t act soon. As of right now, FEMA is scheduled to run out of money by Friday, Sept. 8, just two days before Hurricane Irma is expected to hit Florida.
Unfortunately, the current disaster relief package Congress is considering for Hurricane Harvey doesn’t account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur as a result of Hurricane Irma. In fact, according to FEMA, even with the Harvey supplemental aid package, FEMA is likely to run out of funds before the end of September…. we strongly urge you to include additional funding in the Hurricane Harvey aid package to account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma.”