Editor’s Note: this article will be updated continuously as warranted.
090817 9:40 a.m.: The offices of the Observer News have closed and are expected to be closed on Monday. That said, updates will still be provided as possible and when necessary. Email will be monitored.
I fully expect to have your newspaper to you next week. Please be safe everyone.
090817 9:40 a.m.: According to the National Weather Service, this readership area (Hillsborough and. Manatee counties) could begin to experience tropical storm conditions by Saturday night. By Sunday, hurricane conditions are possible through Sunday night. By Monday, tropical storm conditions.
This storm needs to be taken seriously. Shelters are opening and are expected to continue to open in Hillsborough County, many are pet friendly. Manatee has five shelters planned to open soon, with many more that could be made available.
Florida schools and government are shut down through Monday. Appropriate buildings will be used as shelters as needed.
The Hillsborough County evacuation zone map is here: http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/library/hillsborough/media-center/documents/emergency-management/hillsborough_english_evac_zone_map_dpg2017.pdf?la=en
Information on shelters in Manatee County can be found here:
Please heed official advice regarding this storm. Please keep yourself and your families safe. Please help others if you can. We are all in this together.
090717 9:26 p.m. (IMPORTANT): Florida Governor Rick Scott said, “Today (Thursday), I am directing the closure of all public schools, state colleges, state universities and state offices for their normal activities effective Friday through Monday, to ensure we have every space available for sheltering and staging. Floridians are facing a life-threatening storm in Hurricane Irma, and every family must prepare to evacuate. Our state’s public schools serve a vital role in our communities as shelters for displaced residents and staging areas for hurricane recovery efforts. Closing public schools, state colleges, state universities and state offices will provide local and state emergency officials the flexibility necessary to support shelter and emergency response efforts.”
090717 4:33 p.m.: Hillsborough County has sand and sandbags available again. See the list below for the sand bag stations.
090717 1:33 p.m.: Beginning today (Thursday) at noon, Manatee County’s parks and preserves (and related facilities) will be closed. In order to give our Rangers and staff the opportunity to continue to work to carry the sites safe through the storm, and take whatever actions are necessary through the recovery period, these locations will be closed to the public. We appreciate your understanding as we work to secure these sites.
090717 12:19 p.m.: Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) services, including fixed-route buses, the Anna Maria Island Trolley, and the Longboat Key Shuttle, will be suspended beginning Friday, September 8, in anticipation of Hurricane Irma.
Handy Bus services will also be suspended, except for scheduled dialysis trips on Friday and Saturday. No new reservations will be taken for Monday or Tuesday. Some buses will be used for evacuation transportation for those on the Special Needs Registry.
The length of the suspension is yet to be determined, but officials advised it could last through Wednesday, September 13, depending on the impact of the storm.
090717 11:21 a.m.: An appropriate tweet from @NWSTampaBay: The forecast moves the center of #Irma up the Florida East Coast. Can I now let my guard down on the #FL west coast? Absolutely Not. #flwx
090717 9:30 a.m. (IMPORTANT): UPDATE: SAND BAG DISTRIBUTION HAS RESUMED. The distribution of sandbags at Hillsborough County sites has been temporarily suspended.
The County’s distribution sites have run out of sand and bags because of high demand. The County had been distributing at an unprecedented rate of about 10,000 bags per hour.
The County will reopen the sites when additional materials have been delivered.
090717 10:01 a.m. (IMPORTANT): As Category 5 Hurricane Irma continues to threaten Florida over the weekend, and with 9-foot storm surges expected along the Gulf coast, Manatee County officials today issued a voluntary evacuation for many Manatee County residents beginning 7 a.m. tomorrow, Friday Sept. 8.
Residents can easily determine which evacuation level they live in by entering an address at the County’s interactive hurricane evacuation map online. The voluntary evacuation applies to those living in mobile homes and anyone in the County’s evacuation Level A, red-colored areas on the map near the coast, rivers, streams and low lying areas.
Four emergency shelters will open at 4 p.m. tomorrow for the evacuation including:
Myakka Elementary School, 37205 Manatee Ave., Myakka City
Braden River High (pet friendly), 6545 SR 70 East, Bradenton
Manatee High School (pet friendly), 1000 32nd Street West, Bradenton
Mills Elementary (pet friendly), 7200 69th Street East, Palmetto
“Our emergency shelters should be a last option for anyone who’s decided to leave their home,” said Emergency Management Chief Sherilyn Burris. “We strongly encourage people to stay with family and friends outside of the evacuation area.”
Today the County is coordinating transportation and sheltering assistance with registered special needs clients.
Manatee County Public Works crews assisted County residents loading more than 60,000 sandbags yesterday. Sandbags will be available today from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Additional details are on the County’s sandbag area online.
090617 5:36 p.m.: The Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group (EPG) has declared a local state of emergency for Hillsborough County in response to Hurricane Irma. Under the Executive Order, the County Administrator has the authority to carry out all emergency responsibilities delegated by the EPG. For the latest information on Hurricane Irma response, go to HCFLGov.net/StaySafe.
Sandbag materials are available for Hillsborough County residents to make their own sandbags at seven County Public Works Service Units until 8 p.m. today, and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. as weather permits.
– West Service Unit – 9805 Sheldon Road in Tampa
– South Service Unit – 8718 Old Big Bend Road in Gibsonton
– East Service Unit – 4702 Sydney Road in Plant City
– Ed Radice Park – 14720 Ed Radice Drive in Tampa
– South County Community Collection Center – 13000 US Highway 41 in Gibsonton
– Hillsborough Heights Community Collection Center – 6209 CR 579 in Seffner
– Central Service Unit – 4115 South 66th Street in Tampa
Closings: Hillsborough County Public Schools have announced closures for Thursday, Sept. 7 and Friday, Sept. 8. All Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library events have been cancelled Friday, Sept. 8 through Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Consumer Protection: Hillsborough County reminds residents and visitors to be mindful of businesses or individuals engaging in price gouging. Report to the Attorney General’s hotline at (866) 966-7226, or by filing a complaint with Hillsborough County at HCFLGov.net.
Trash, Recycling, and Yard Waste Collection: Curbside trash, recycling, and yard waste collection for County customers will continue while weather conditions permit. Take garbage and recycling items that will not fit in your carts to one of the designated Community Collection Centers. Bring a copy of your recent tax bill and photo ID.
090617 4:48 p.m.: Manatee County offices will close at noon Sept. 7 and remain closed through the weekend as government employees transition to their emergency response duties in advance of Hurricane Irma.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said an announcement will come on Sunday regarding County offices reopening next week.
Fort Hamer Bridge, scheduled to open to traffic on Sept. 23, will open temporarily to accommodate traffic related to the storm at 6 a.m. on Friday Sept. 8. Public Works Director Ron Schulhofer said the bridge is safe for vehicle traffic but it will close Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 8 p.m. to complete the project.
Manatee County Commissioners declared a local state of emergency this morning well ahead of potential impacts from Hurricane Irma. The declaration enables local officials to take steps toward issuing evacuation notices and opening hurricane shelters.
No evacuations have been ordered at this time, but with tropical-force winds expected to arrive Saturday, officials urged residents to pay attention to news and forecasts.
090617 12:45 p.m.: Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene announced this morning that Manatee District Schools will be open on Thursday, but will be closed on Friday. Schools that serve as shelters will begin preparations to open after schools close Thursday. Information on when shelters will be able to accept evacuees will be announced at a later time.
090617 11:45 a.m.: The Hillsborough County School District issued the following statement: All of Florida is facing a threat more serious than at any time in recent memory. Our school buildings and our 25,000 employees need time to prepare their facilities and families for the possibly devastating effects of Hurricane Irma.
Because of this, Hillsborough County Public Schools will close both Thursday and Friday, September 7th and 8th. In addition, all after-school activities will be cancelled for Thursday and Friday. http://www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/doc/2013/emergency-management/resources/weather/
090617 9:28 a.m.: Gannon University is featured in this week’s Observer News. Gannon University officials at their main campus in Pennsylvania has informed us that the university will be closing today due to the oncoming storm. No re-opening date has yet been specified.
The (excellent) personal (non-official) view from an NHC scientist:
— Eric Blake 🌀 (@EricBlake12) September 6, 2017
090617 9:59 a.m.: The NFL has postponed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Miami Dolphins game, originally scheduled for Sunday in Miami. The game will be played on Sunday, Nov. 19 — a mutual bye week for both teams.
090617 10:32 a.m.: From a reader via Facebook: The Hillsborough County Service & Support number is: (813) 272-5900
090617 10:59 a.m.: From Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman: Access Hurricane & Tropical Storm updates from Hillsborough County and National Weather Service: http://www.sandymurman.com/get-ready/
090617 11:23 a.m.: The City of Palmetto has announced they will hold a special meeting at 1:30 p.m on Sept. 7 to vote on a city-wide state of emergency.
As if to serve as a hard reminder that mid-September is the peak of hurricane season, Hurricane Irma is on track to become one of the most powerful storms in years – and as of this writing, Florida is well within the sights of the tropical cyclone, which on Tuesday was declared a Category 5 storm.
By the time this newspaper lands on your driveway in 24 or so hours, the nearly 20 million residents of Florida will have a better idea about where Irma is likely to make landfall. By Wednesday morning, it was already clear the storm had devastated islands and lives in the Caribbean.
The city of Tampa has not been directly hit by a hurricane since 1921. That does not make the city “overdue” for a hurricane. Tropical cyclones don’t work that way. But the Tampa Bay area is certainly among the most vulnerable should a hurricane approach, particularly from the west. Most of the bay area is highly susceptible to storm surge flooding. And that bears noting that wind is generally not the killer in most hurricanes; it is the flooding that tends to kill.
Governor Rick Scott has declared that all 67 counties in Florida are under a state of emergency, which activated county and regional emergency operations centers, among other things. Part of living in Florida, particularly in coastal Florida, means being prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. But the former is the key.
While the impact of Irma is still unknown as these words are typed, being prepared for Irma or any storm is vital everywhere in this readership area.
On a personal note: being prepared is essential, panic is not. There are no water or fuel shortages in the Tampa Bay area. If a grocery store or gas station is empty of water and fuel, it is due to panic buying. Buy as needed; know that the stores will be restocked. I’ve been with the Observer News since August 2001. In those 16 years, Florida has been hit by any number of storms, but this newspaper has never failed to go to press. I don’t expect that to change next week. That said, be safe.
For information and to help create a family or business storm plan, visit www.floridadisaster.org.
Hillsborough County offers an emergency alert system via email or text message. Create an account at tinyurl.com/hillsborough-alerts.
Manatee County offers a weather alert system via email or text message. Create an account at tinyurl.com/manatee-alerts.
For official storm information, visit www.hurricanes.gov.