Monday, September 25, 2017

Southwest Florida braces as worst-case scenario appears more likely

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Lee County officials are continuing preparations as new predictive models are showing a westward trend in Hurricane Irma’s path bringing it closer to Southwest Florida.

Many were hoping that the forecast showing an east coast path for the storm would spare the area the worst of it’s effects, but now Irma’s impact on the area is even more uncertain.

“It’s very unfortunate that it has come to this,” said County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass. “We were hoping five days ago the track would continue east, currently it is coming west a little more towards Lee County and Southwest Florida.”

The sustained wind speeds of Irma have reduced to 150 mph, downgrading it to a category 4 storm, but it still poses a serious threat to life and property.

The county opened shelters at 9 a.m this morning as it began the mandatory evacuation of barrier islands like Sanibel. While there is no penalty for refusing to leave during a mandatory evacuation, Lee County Sheriff’s deputies have been going door to door alerting residents who choose to stay that the situation could become very dangerous and that emergency personnel would not be able to assist them during the storm.

Evacuees can take any Lee County bus to an open shelter free of charge. Buses will cease routes after winds reach 30 mph as it becomes unsafe for vehicles of that size to operate under those conditions. Trash pickup is suspended county wide for Saturday as tropical storm force wind are expected to arrive that evening. Residents are encouraged to secure trash bins and any other objects outside the home that could become airborne and cause damage during high winds.

Cars line up as evacuees go to South Fort Myers High School for shelter from Irma.(Photo: Jordan Hester/Naples Herald)

No decisions have been made about bridge closures at this time, but LCSO spokesperson Tony Schall said that after winds reach 40 mph bridges become unsafe for travel. Tolls are currently suspend on all Lee County bridges.

County Manager Roger Desjarlais said that he had received reports of employers not allowing workers time to secure their homes and prepare for possible evacuation orders. He explained that with the size and intensity of Irma, it was important for employers to let employees take the time to make the necessary preparations.

“They are making them stay at work and they will be working until they close for the storm, somehow that seems wrong,” said Desjarlais. “In this case, it really would be the right thing to do for employers to allow the employees time to secure their property and family.”

Officials will be monitoring the number of evacuees entering the seven shelters that are currently open and will be closely monitor storm information before making decisions on activating more shelters or ordering more evacuations.

Commissioner Pendergrass said that while he had hoped the area would be spared the worst of the storm, he was confidant that the county was a ready a possible for a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude.

“Lee County has been preparing for this for years,” said Pendergrass. “Our emergency operations and all of our staff are ready to go for this storm.”


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