Manatee and Sarasota counties are now under a hurricane warning as Hurricane Irma continues to move to the west.
At 5 p.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center extended the hurricane warning northward to Manatee County. Manatee County is also under a storm surge watch.
As of the 2 a.m. advisory, Hurricane Irma was about 275 miles south-southeast of Miami and moving west at 12 mph. The storm’s maximum sustained winds were 160 mph, once again making it a Category 5, with a central pressure of 930 mb.
Manatee Memorial Hospital officials announced Friday afternoon the hospital was being evacuated. The hospital is located in Zone A, which was placed under a mandatory evacuation earlier in the day.
Kevin DiLallo, CEO of Manatee Memorial Hospital, said the hospital was preparing to evacuate all patients and relocating them to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center due to storm surge possibility. There are 206 patients affected, DiLallo said.
The evacuation includes about 10 infants in the neonatal intensive care unit; they were being relocated to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Manatee Memorial is scheduled to close at 7 p.m. Saturday. DiLallo said officials would need to assess the stability of the hospital before reopening after the storm.
Personnel will remain at MMH during its closure to secure the building and will prepare it to reopen after the storm passes, Betty Chambliss, hospital spokeswoman said. The hospital is not open for emergencies or for shelter.
Manatee County officials on Friday ordered the mandatory evacuation of residents in Zone A, mostly neighborhoods along the water, and mobile home residents. Checkpoints will be set up, and no one will be allowed onto Anna Maria Island beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday.
The mandatory order replaces the voluntary evacuation recommendation issued Thursday. Law enforcement officers will be going door to door as well as driving along streets to announce over loudspeakers that people must leave.
After the storm, residents will have to show two forms of identification to get onto the island.
The mandatory evacuation order comes with the increased threat of storm surge due to the latest track of Hurricane Irma’s path.
“The intensity of the storm, the size of the storm does not necessarily mean anything when it comes to storm surge, which is what we base our evacuations on,” Manatee County Public Safety Director Bob Smith said.
As a result, 22 of Manatee County’s 24 temporary shelters were opened Friday. County employees are staffing the shelters, along with members of the National Guard who arrived Friday. Shelters should be used as a last resort only, officials said.
“I would recommend everybody be packed up, I don’t say be ready to leave, just be ready to protect yourselves and your family,” Emergency Management Chief Sherilyn Burris.
The city of Bradenton and Manatee County Public Works crews have stopped distributing sandbags. Nearly 150,000 sandbags were filled for Manatee County residents this week, according to officials.
Garbage and recycling pickups have been suspended both Saturday and Monday.
City of Bradenton offices will be closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino urged people to stay calm and seek higher ground. She also told those who plan to leave to make sure they have everything they need, whether they’re going to a shelter or staying with friends or family.
“We just need you to be safe,” DiSabatino said. “Please, don’t be a hero. If you think you’re suspecting you need to evacuate please do so.”
Shelters do not have cots, so those planning to stay in shelters should bring everything they need.
Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker asked people to be civil and remain calm as they leave.
“It’s going to be a difficult time. The storm track as we currently know it will bring heavy rains and rising water. Be patient. If you can leave, leave. If you’re going to stay, be prepared,” Hunzeker said.
The heaviest winds, he said are expected to pick up Sunday and into Monday.
Hunzeker said he expects Manatee County government to remain closed Monday and Tuesday while authorities continue to handle the storm’s aftermath.
In Sarasota County, Zone A was also being ordered to evacuate, including downtown waterfront hotels.
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells assured residents that deputies are ready to help and get people out safely. However, when tropical force winds reach 45 mph, they will be “bunkered down” as well.
“It’s too unsafe for my deputies to be out there trying to respond to emergency calls. You’re going to be on your own until the storm passes,” Wells said.
The mandatory evacuations are critical, he said, for deputies to secure the area.
When it’s time to return home, deputies will require two forms of identification to let residents inside neighborhoods. It’s all in an effort to prevent looting after the storm. He suggested a photo ID and some sort of bill.
“If people come in there trying to steal property, if you’re trying to loot, we’re going to take you to jail. We’re not going to put up with that,” Wells said.
Jacob Saur, chief of Manatee County 911, said to keep the 911 system from being overwhelmed, citizens should call the Citizen Information Hotline at 941-749-3547.
For those who need assistance with special needs evacuation or sheltering, call 941-749-3030.
Friday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan spoke to those staffing the Emergency Operations Center and assured them resources will be available to clean up after Irma passes through the area.
“Bottom line is, I want to make sure we’re going to be on the ground after that and see what we need and make sure we got all those dollars that we need, in terms of support for Florida,” Buchanan said in a video posted to the county’s Facebook page.
“We want to make sure were encouraging everybody to take this serious. I think a lot more people are than I’ve ever seen before. I think its partly because they’ve been watching TV over the last two to three weeks and seeing the impact in Houston,” Buchanan noted.
The U.S. Postal Service said mail delivery, collection and retail services may be suspended in specific areas until officials “confirm that conditions have improved enough to ensure safety for both employees and customers,” Enola C. Rice, spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service, said in an email.
Verizon announced Friday that it will waive overage charges for talk, text and data for counties impacted by Hurricane Irma. The waiver starts Saturday and goes through Monday.
According to Verizon, customers might still receive notifications of an overage, but it will be paid for by Verizon on their next bill.
For more information, call Verizon customer care at 1-800-922-0204.
Herald reporter Hannah Morse contributed to this story.
Shelters in Manatee County
▪ Bayshore Elementary School, 6120 26th St. W., Bradenton
▪ Braden River Middle School, 6215 River Club Blvd., Bradenton
▪ Braden River High, 6545 S.R. 70 E., Bradenton, pet friendly
▪ Buffalo Creek Middle School, 7320 69th St. E., Palmetto
▪ Daughtrey Elementary, 515 63rd Ave. E., Bradenton
▪ Freedom Elementary School, 9515 S.R. 64 E., Bradenton
▪ Gullet Elementary School, 12125 44th Ave. E., Bradenton
▪ Carlos Haile Middle School, 9501 S.R. 64 E., Bradenton
▪ Kinnan Elementary School, 3415 Tallevast Road, Sarasota
▪ Lee Middle School, 4000 53rd Ave. W., Bradenton
▪ Manatee High School, 902 33rd St. Ct. W., Bradenton, pet friendly
▪ McNeal Elementary School, 6325 Lorraine Road, Bradenton
▪ Mills Elementary School, 7200 69th St. E., Palmetto, pet friendly
▪ Myakka Elementary School, 37205 Manatee Ave., Myakka City
▪ Oneco Elementary School, 5414 22nd St. Ct. E., Bradenton
▪ Prine Elementary School, 3801 Southern Parkway, Bradenton
▪ G.D. Rodgers Garden Elementary School, 515 13th Ave. W., Bradenton
▪ Seabreeze Elementary School, 3601 71st St. W., Bradenton
▪ Tillman Elementary School, 1415 29th St. E., Palmetto
▪ Annie Lucy Williams Elementary School, 3404 Fort Hamer Road, Parrish
▪ Willis Elementary School, 14705 The Masters Ave., Bradenton
▪ Witt Elementary School, 200 Rye Road, Bradenton