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Irma threatens Longboat

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

Every major hurricane is ruled by uncertainty.

That uncertainty was manifest on Thursday afternoon throughout Longboat Key and the entire region.

“Hopefully for the entire state this will be nothing more than a useful exercise,” Mayor Terry Gans said Thursday afternoon at an emergency meeting held in Town Hall.

But that hope was dampened by the fact that the tracking models showed the Category 5 storm-making landfall 40 miles west of the track earlier in the day.

Town Manager Dave Bullock made it clear that if an evacuation is ordered and anyone decides to not leave and instead watches the police and fire vehicles exit, “You will have made a really bad mistake.”

 

Tracking a monster

Dezzi spoke of the fact that the latest tracking models moving the storm 40 miles westward — closer in path of Longboat Key.

“We are looking at a monster storm — a Category 5 storm, said Dezzi.

Dezzi explained the fate of Longboat Key hinges on the “turn” of the storm. If a low-pressure trough that is covering the Southeast steers it north- northeastward as expected, the storm will likely hit close to Miami.

“If the storm makes a turn early; that is good for us. If it turns late — that is real bad,” Dezzi added.

The latest models show the winds would start arriving early Sunday morning and the storm would hit the coast of Florida at about 145 MPH. Three to four inches of rain are expected.

 

The Surge

Hurricane winds rotate counter-clockwise said Bullock. If Irma approaches to our east, the storm surge will be minimal. If it arrives from the west or southwest, the storm surge could be as high as 10 to 15 feet, he added.

 

Evacuation

Bullock told the audience Thursday that the experts are “really good” at predicting 24 hours out. After that, the confidence level drops off.

The consensus between Dezzi and Bullock is that if a mandatory evacuation of Longboat Key is to occur, it will be announced late Friday afternoon. The goal is to announce an evacuation more than 24 hours in advance of tropical force winds, which could arrive as early as late Saturday night.

Bullock warned that if an evacuation is ordered and Longboat is facing a direct hit, “There is no reason for any living human to stay on Longboat Key. If it comes with a 15-foot storm surge the entire island is under water.”

Bullock warned, “There is no response that can come and help anyone. Most people die from drowning in hurricanes, not from wind and things flying around.”

Dezzi said he and his department received about 50 calls with people declaring that even if asked to leave, they are going to ride the storm out. Dezzi said that even if these people change their minds as the storm approaches, it is often too late because the Fire Department does not respond to any emergencies when the winds exceed 45 mph.

Dezzi said about 40 special needs residents who either need oxygen or electrically-powered medical devices were identified and four of them will need assistance and will receive help in event of a mandatory evacuation and taken to a special needs shelter.

 

Planning for this day…

Gans and Bullock spoke of how years of effort and planning are now manifest. For instance, every gas tank on every town vehicle is full and ready. Bullock said sandbags have been made available to residents for free.

“We have distributed more sandbags in the last three days than the prior 12 years,” said Bullock who added that 2,000 alone came from Sarasota County.

The sandbags are for Longboat residents only and Bullock said a few non-Longboaters attempted to help themselves.

Shelter from the storm

For those who have not made arrangements to evacuate to the mainland, the option that remains if an order is given to evacuate are the public shelters that are located in both Sarasota and Manatee Counties. If an evacuation becomes mandatory, shelter lists will be published on local news stations and news websites and on the Town website — www.longboatkey.org — and Bullock said residents need to pay attention to how full the shelters are and if they take pets.

Bullock added that Longboat falls into the same category as trailer parks in that it is always the first area, since it is a barrier island, to be evacuated.

Mayor Gans said that the website www.fl511.com aggregates traffic and road conditions for all highways and roadways and he recommends using it for those who plan to drive out of town.

 

Anxious behavior…

For residents looking to fuel up or procure supplies in event of a storm, the scene grew frantic, but not as dire as on the mainland.

Cars lined up at the south end BP Station for gas early in the day, and residents were busy filling whatever spare gas cans they had.

Meanwhile, the water supplies at Publix were gutted except for the pallets of Zephyrhills that were strategically placed throughout the store.

Mayor Gans was busy shopping and said he was planning on staying at his Grand Bay Condominium unless a mandatory evacuation was called. He then said, “I suppose I should pick up some emergency supplies.”

But the real stress and effort in play is with the Town Staff who are busy preparing for the worst, all the while watching the forward march of Hurricane Irma toward the southern tip of Florida.

Dezzi best summed up the anxiety in the air in saying that the entire region is watching to see when the storm will make that northern “turn. “

For Dezzi, time is the only indicator.

“We are waiting for Irma to make its northern turn. The sooner it turns the better for us and the later could be disastrous,” said Dezzi.

 

Specific efforts

When asked if there was any effort specific to Longboat or unique in its experience in how our Police and Fire Departments are responding to the potential storm, Dezzi said, “We do far more of a personal touch than would be possible with a larger department. Right now, I’m heading to check on two residents because neighbors were concerned that they may not be aware of the pending situation.”

Dezzi added that the Town is personally speaking with property managers of condominiums to find out who is planning on staying and who will be on site if a storm is imminent.

Dezzi stressed that if a mandatory evacuation is made, there will be no emergency personnel to make a rescue during the storm. Dezzi did say that the Fire Department and Police Department always seek to know of anyone who does stay and their location so they can be located if a search and rescue after the storm passes.

The town has reserved a bank of hotel rooms at I-75 where the commission will convene if there is a mandatory evacuation during and after a storm to make decisions and stay informed about the island restoration if Longboat suffers a direct hit.

Dezzi says a major part of the effort, if an evacuation is ordered, is convincing some of the stalwarts to leave.

“There are people who will not evacuate, regardless if you tell them to leave. If they want to stay, we can’t physically force anyone to go, but we seek to make them understand that all of the Fire and Rescue and Police will be on the mainland and the roads can quickly be blocked and they may have no way out,” said Dezzi.

Dezzi added, “When you see the taillights of the Fire trucks, you just saw the last guys leave the island who can help you.”

 

Post storm

In the event of a major hurricane, the town staff will work with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the first job is to clear a path from Sarasota across Lido and then the length of Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Dezzi said one of the major concerns are the sheer number of Australian Pines on John Ringling Boulevard that could take significant time to cut through. If that effort is impeded, search and rescue could also arrive by boat from Sarasota. Dezzi said the first job is to find anyone who stayed on the Key and attempt to rescue them.

The emergency responders would establish a command post in a high and dry location and the commissioners would remain out east and be briefed and get input.

Dezzi said he was very grateful for all the support from Longboat Key rental properties that offered rooms to any Fire Department personnel who may be on the island during the storm. He added that in the event of a disaster, it would be an “all hands on deck” situation.

 

Final words

If there is a mandatory evacuation, half of the Fire Department will be situated at Blake Hospital in Manatee County and the other half at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Dezzi warned that the storm is 100 miles wide and if it does not head north and out of the way of Longboat Key, it could be a week or longer until residents could even return to the island.

The best advice Bullock wished to offer residents is to keep watching the local news and stay informed and if told to evacuate — get out.

 

Useful Links

National Hurricane Center Irma Info page with tracking: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/#irma

Town of Longboat Key Homepage: http://www.longboatkey.org

Manatee County Homepage: https://www.mymanatee.org/home.html

Sarasota County Homepage: https://www.scgov.net

 

 

 

 

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