Water lines to Anna Maria Island will be shut off before morning, according to Manatee County government.
Though it weakened to a Category 3 hurricane, Irma is expected to regain strength before hitting Southwest Florida on Sunday.
“We are in challenging times. We need folks to stay calm,” Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said during a news conference Saturday afternoon. “These are difficult times, but we need the community to understand that we have a number of professionals here that are working day and night to make sure the community is safe. We need you to be safe.”
With some uncertainty still regarding the exact path of the storm, Hunzeker asked residents to be diligent.
“We need you to be diligent. If you haven't started on the track north or somewhere else in the state, then you need to hunker down,” Hunzeker said. “Remember once tropical storms winds begin, it could be 72 hours before we could get to you. The winds will pick up overnight and some time tomorrow that 72-hour clock will start counting down.”
Bob Smith, director of Manatee County Public Safety Department, elaborated.
“You should be in shelters or hunkered down where you are going to be for the next 48 hours by 8 p.m. tonight,” Smith said Saturday afternoon. “By 8 p.m., be where you are going to be for the storm.”
Officials urged residents to keep children entertained during high winds and asked that no one leave their home once tropical winds start.
By Saturday evening, there more than 19,300 people in public shelters in Manatee County schools. Several shelters have reached capacity. There is still space available at the following shelters:
- Seabreeze Elementary
- Williams Elementary
- Witt Elementary
Residents with questions or concerns can call the Citizens Information Center line at 941-749-3547.
Irma, now 110 miles southeast of Key West, has sustained winds of 120 mph and is moving 7 mph to the west-northwest, according to the National Hurricane Center. Officials expect it will turn northwest Saturday evening and make another more north-northwest turn Saturday night or early Sunday.
The center of the storm will move toward northern Cuba on Saturday and on to the Florida Keys on Sunday morning, according to the NHC. Irma is expected to gain strength as it moves away from Cuba.
The 5 p.m. advisory from the NHC has the path in line with Manatee County, with storm surge along the coast of 6 to 10 feet. With the storm, the Florida peninsula and southeast Georgia could see as much as 20 inches of rain in some places, according to the NHC, which could lead to devastating floods.
The forecast cone shows the worst of the storm is expected hit the Manatee County area Sunday night and early Monday morning.
Manatee County is under a hurricane warning, meaning hurricane conditions are expected at some point within the warning area and preparations should be rushed to completion. The Manatee River is also under a flood warning.
Hurricane force winds extend up to 70 miles from the center of the storm and tropical storm force winds 195 miles, according to the NHC.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered Friday morning for Zone A in Manatee County, which includes neighborhoods near the water, and all mobile and manufactured homes, replacing the previous voluntary evacuation for that zone.
That evacuation included Manatee Memorial Hospital. 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.
Friday, the county opened 22 of Manatee County’s 24 temporary shelters.
After the storm, residents will have to show two forms of identification to get onto Anna Maria Island and back into their neighborhoods. Westbound traffic on the bridges to the island was shutting down at 6 p.m. Saturday.
The city of Bradenton and Manatee County Public Works crews have stopped distributing sandbags.
Garbage and recycling pickups have been suspended both Saturday and Monday.
City of Bradenton offices will be closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells on Friday assured residents that deputies are ready to help and get people out safely. However, when tropical force winds reach 45 mph, they will be hunkered down as well.
Stay with the Bradenton Herald all weekend for updates on the storm’s track and what it means for Manatee County.