Manatee County Commissioners have declared a state of emergency countywide due to the path of Hurricane Irma.
The declaration triggers the ability of county officials to order evacuation notices and to open shelters, which could be announced as soon as this afternoon depending on the forecast track, according to Manatee County Public Safety Director Bob Smith.
A state of emergency also is in effect statewide, with the National Guard already on alert.
Hurricane Irma is a Category 5 storm with sustained wind speeds of 185 mph, headed towards Florida sometime Sunday or Monday, Smith said. Up to 9 feet of storm surge is possible along the Gulf coast, with 10-15 inches of rain from Central to South Florida. Tropical storm force winds could arrive locally as early as Saturday.
The storm is more than 400 miles wide, with a tropical storm force area 300 miles wide and a hurricane force area 100 miles wide, Smith said.
“We have the potential to receive hurricane force winds and even greater potential to receive tropical storm force winds,” he said.
Evacuations would include 53,574 people in Level A, the red section of the Manatee County Hurricane Evacuation Map. Evacuations also would include 46,698 people in mobile home parks, no matter where they are located. The evacuation is expected to take between 10 and 12 hours.
“It is important to evacuate,” Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Sherilyn Burris said. “We could still see storm surge because of the size of this storm. We haven’t had a storm in Florida in a long time of this magnitude.”
Even if landfall doesn’t happen at Manatee County, and even if Irma heads east, “We could be impacted with local flooding and high winds,” said Burris, calling Irma “a very dangerous storm.”
Evacuations already are underway in South Florida, beginning to cause congestion on Interstate highways, Smith said.
Schools will be in session Thursday and will be closed on Friday to give schools time to convert to shelters, said Dr. Diana Greene, Manatee County Superintendent of Schools.