Hurricane Irma’s track toward Manatee and Sarasota counties is a real threat.
That’s what emergency management chief Sherilyn Burris stressed during a Saturday morning news conference at the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center.
To that end, Burris is urging people to take shelter.
“We are going to issue a voluntary evacuation of our Level B hurricane level in coordination with Sarasota County and our counties to our south,” Burris said.
Evacuating now, Burris said, is when people should do it, rather than waiting before it’s too late.
There are 22 shelters open throughout Manatee County, and all are now accepting pets. As of Saturday, more than 8,000 evacuees had taken shelter in Manatee County schools designated as shelters, according to the school district. Some schools have reached or are close to capacity, incuding Oneco Elementary and Braden River High.
“We are trying to designate certain ones as additional pet shelters,” Burris said. “At this point, we are focusing on life (and) safety.”
With Irma registering as a Category 4 hurricane as of Saturday, wind speeds were at 130 miles per hour with higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center.
At 45 mph winds, Burris said emergency services will not be on the road to help. Instead, they’ll be bunkered similar to what Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said on Friday the sheriff’s office will do once tropical storm winds arrive.
“Absolutely go to those open shelters now,” Burris said. “... With this storm, you understand the very serious impacts that we are going to face: high winds, storm surge and heavy rains. We will be looking at weeks without electricity, possibility of no phones or internet. Evacuate to a safe area.”
Added Manatee County acting chairwoman Robin DiSabatino: “This is very, very serious. We want you all to seek shelter.”
DiSabatino urged residents in low-lying areas, mobile homes, manufactured homes or along the coastal areas susceptible to flooding, then you should seek higher ground.
Manatee County health officer Jennifer Bencie also spoke in Saturday morning’s press briefing. She said there are 73 clients in their special needs shelter, and there is still time to fill prescription medicine before Irma arrives.
Bencie also said Manatee Memorial Hospital is closed.
“We will not be taking any more special needs registration calls (Saturday), because transportation needs to get those existing clients to the shelter before the winds pick up.”
Bencie wrapped her portion of the press briefing stressing safety with generators as carbon monoxide poisoning is possible problem during natural disasters.