Manatee officials already preparing for the possibility of Isaac

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 24, 2012 

MANATEE -- County officials are forming their game plan as Tropical Storm Isaac approaches.

An initial briefing at the county's Emergency Operations Center is slated for 9 a.m. today for everyone who works in the building, and others who work at affiliated agencies, said Laurie Feagans, Manatee's emergency operations chief.

At the briefing, county officials will explain what they think the game plan will be in dealing with Isaac.

The storm continued on a potentially destructive path toward the island of Hispaniola, but its future path, should it cross Cuba and enter the Gulf of Mexico, remains uncertain, forecasters said.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty out there right now, mainly because it's still a tropical storm right now," said Todd Barron, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

By later today or early Saturday, Isaac is expected to become a Category 1 hurricane, with wind speeds of 74-95 mph, Barron said.

The weather service's five-day forecast predicted it would follow a track that will carry it west of Tampa, Barron said.

The storm will be near Manatee County sometime Monday, probably in the afternoon, or early Tuesday.

"If it does follow the current track, it will affect you in some way," Barron said.

Even it if does stay offshore, there are threats of tornadoes and other serious weather disturbances in Manatee County, he noted.

No warnings or watches have been issued for Manatee so far, he said.

The county's pre-briefing for approximately 120 workers today will be at the Emergency Operations Center, at the Public Safety Center, 2101 47th Terrace E., officials said.

It is designed to determine when and how Manatee's center will be activated, should the storm threaten the area, Feagans said.

The county is planning to call its "special needs" citizens, who would have difficulty evacuating, as soon as Saturday, Feagans said. They are residents who are elderly, disabled or have special medical conditions that complicate evacuation.

"We'll call them Saturday to give a heads-up, and actually move people on Sunday if we have to," Feagans said.

Those who might need help should call 941-749-3500, ext. 1667.

Meanwhile, Manatee County residents already were out buying hurricane supplies Thursday, especially water and plywood, according to store owners.

Russ Duket, a five-year resident of Bradenton, bought a basketful of bottled water, trail mix, cookies, cereal, macaroni and other items from the Sam's Club on State Road 70, which had hundreds of cases of water stacked up near the front entrance.

"This is my granddaughter, Alexa's, first big storm," said Duket who rents an apartment near State College of Florida. "I wanted to get her all her favorite food."

Duket, who works in the operating room at Blake Medical Center, said he and his son-in-law are actually planning to greet Isaac.

"We like to play in bad weather," Duket said. "We plan on going out to Anna Maria Island and to the preserves."

Seconds after Duket was finished loading his car, Trish Gottoni unloaded 64 bottles of water into hers at Sam's Club.

"We needed dog food but while we were here, we decided to get the extra water because of the storm," Gottoni said. "I am really hoping it just goes right by us."

A few miles away, Lowe's was selling wind protection.

Les and Peggy Wall lifted four thin plywood sheets into a cart, soon to protect their manufactured home at Windmill Manor on S.R. 70 from wind damage.

The Walls, Pennsylvania transplants, have been in Bradenton just less than a year and this is their first major weather event in Florida.

"We haven't gotten any calls from the relatives yet," Peggy Wall said.

The county is not yet advising that people board up their homes, Feagans said, but she did offer a clear message to the public: "Have your family plan and disaster kit ready."

"This storm will bring rain and tropical force winds," she said. "The ground is already saturated, so people should be especially mindful of high winds that could topple trees."

-- Herald reporter Richard Dymond contributed to this story.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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