With Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, Lee County officials have announced a mandatory evacuation order for Bonita Beach, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva, and Pine Island beginning Friday morning. Evacuation orders are also in place in Collier County for Everglades City, Chokoloskee, and Goodland
Residents of mobile and manufactured homes are also under an evacuation order due to the more vulnerable nature of those structures. The county will open seven of its shelters beginning at 9 a.m in order to house evacuees. Sanibel will begin a mandatory evacuation of hotels at 6 p.m. this evening in addition to a voluntary evacuation of residents.
According to Director of Emergency Management Lee Mayfield, evacuees can stop at any Lee County bus stop to receive a ride to an open shelter and tolls have been suspended on all of the county’s bridges until further notice. East Lee County and South Fort Myers will be the primary pet friendly shelters, but all shelters will have some limited ability to accommodate pets.
In Collier County, the county has suspended fares on Collier Area Transit buses on routes to take anyone seeking transportation to the shelter.
Lee County Undersheriff Carmine Marceno explained that residents can bring their firearms when they evacuate, but cannot bring them into the shelter.
“You are allowed to bring the firearms in the car, but I will tell you that you cannot bring the firearm inside the shelter. At no time can your firearm come into the shelter,” said Marceno.
Mayfield said that further announcements on evacuations and shelter openings would be made as the storm nears.
“As the storm approaches, we’ll be able to refine any additional actions we’ll have to make, but we wanted to make these decisions based in safety and that uncertainty in Irma’s forecast,” said Mayfield.
Southwest Florida International Airport has currently not announced plans to close, though some airlines have already begun canceling flight.
With recent forecasts showing Irma’s path shifting further east, some have questioned the necessity of early evacuations. County Manager Roger Desjalais said that it was the unprecedented size of the category 5 hurricane and its ability to shift course that had prompted the early decision.
“This storm is so large and so powerful I wouldn’t want to take that risk of not calling for an evacuation of the barrier islands. If it were a different storm then I might feel differently but this one is just too big, it’s just too damn big.”
© 2017 Naples Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.