PREPARING FOR IRMA-GEDDON

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At the Sanford Public Works building at 800 West Fulton Street, residents came out to fill sandbags they could use for protecting their homes when Hurricane Irma hits this weekend. According to Seminole County, over 100,000 sandbags were given out in total.

Residents line up at Therm-o-tane to stock up on propane in preparation for Hurricane Irma. 

McRobert’s on 1st Street in downtown also chose to board up their business Friday. 

Employees at Harrell & Beverly Transmission board up the business and remove the sign. 

At the Public Works building at 800 West Fulton Street on Thursday, those in the county who didn’t get their sandbags the previous day in preparation for Hurricane Irma’s descent this weekend flocked to do it now.
The group of people there was small but resilient, working fast under the hot sun and sweating as they loaded bags of sand from a freshly-dumped mound of it delivered by the City of Sanford.
Residents from Casselberry, Lake Mary and more were among the crowd. The mood was communal and people helped one another and worked together.
When asked what their thoughts were on the storm, the residents were anxious but also holding together, ready to face whatever comes.
“It’s going to be a big storm,” said one resident who asked to be identified only as Bill. “I hope it doesn’t hit us too bad. I hope it hangs a right and goes back out into the ocean.”
“It needs to turn around,” said Rob Cook of Lake Mary. “I don’t need it, we don’t need it. I’ve only been here a few years. My kids were here before me the last time a hurricane came through - the trees were all over the street. We had to clean it up. You’d think with all the scientific data they’ve got, they could turn the storm around. Or make a bomb to break it apart.”
Others were just keeping their heads down and focused on preparations.
“You’ve got to prepare early,” said Orange City resident Marangely Bennett. “You’ve got to get supplies a week ahead of time. They give notice, you got to get out there and get to the supermarket. I bought my water last Sunday. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy.”
Later that day, at the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, a press conference was held on what the county was doing to prepare.
Emergency Management Chief Administrator Alan Harris said that while it was still too early to determine exactly how Irma could impact Seminole County, they were preparing for at least Category 3 Hurricane winds and rain, based on the current weather projections.
Harris said they had distributed over 200,000 sandbags to residents since Wednesday when they started giving them out.
He said they would determine soon how to proceed with opening their emergency shelters, which are schools in the area - Lyman High School, Chiles Middle School, Bentley Elementary School, Highlands Elementary School, Midway Elementary School and Lake Mary High School.
Bentley, Highlands and Layer Elementary School are going to be specifically set up for those with medical needs during the storm. Bentley and Lyman will also be open to pets.
And he said the county services would be closed Saturday and Monday, although some staff would be working from various locations like the shelters.
Sheriff Dennis Lemma reminded everyone to take the storm deadly serious and not to get complacent.
“Don’t become complacent based on what happened with Hurricane Matthew last year,” he warned. “Don’t become complacent based on Matthew’s move east. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
He said it was important for people to take care of shopping and boarding up their homes as soon as they could.
And after the storm, Lemma reminded residents to be wary of downed power lines and traffic signals that, if broken, could lead to accidents.
And he said if anyone saw price-gouging going on, with necessary items sold at higher-than-usual prices before the storm, they should call the statewide hotline at 1-866-966-7226.
The school district announced that schools would be closed on Monday and Tuesday of next week while the damages from the storm are assessed.
Harris and the others warned that Hurricane Charley in 2004, the previous most recent and extreme storm in the area, had only been a Category 1 storm. Irma, on the contrary, is projected to be at least a Category 3 if not higher, they said.
But Lemma was encouraged and optimistic about the way the residents of the county had responded to the threat - efficiently and with care to help their fellow people.
“Driving on my way home, I saw lines to the gas station going around the block, and to the grocery store for water,” he said. “It was reassuring that people could get out and do this; they’re taking this storm very seriously. And they’re very courteous to each other. It’s times like this we come together stronger than ever as a community. I see that in the patience and the behavior of people waiting for gas or waiting in long lines at the grocery store to pick up water and canned food. It shows we’re a great community, and we come together to help each other out. Our faith-based community has been calling and wanting to help out, too. It speaks very highly of who we are in Florida.”
At a second press conference on Friday afternoon, Lemma and Harris were joined by Florida Department of Health official Donna Walsh and School Board Chair Amy Lockhart, and all of them advocated extreme caution for the coming days.
They advised against evacuating if one didn’t have to, due to the high traffic volume on every interstate highway making it extremely slow to leave.
And, they said if one decided to go to a shelter, they should have all documents prepared in the case of damage to their homes and be prepared to stay at the shelter for more than a day if the dangerous weather conditions persist.
Lemma said his department would begin assessing which calls to respond to over the weekend as the weather worsens - while they’ll be doing their best to keep the area safe, he advised residents they may not be able to answer calls for smaller unrelated matters like barking dogs as the storm comes.
Lemma said of all the crimes and challenges his department faces in upholding the law in Seminole County, “there has never been a more significant challenge than this storm.”
Harris offered a sort of universal warning against the dangers of the days to come.
“We are predicting a Category 3 or 4 hurricane impact on Seminole County,” he said. “We’re looking at the worst case scenario, but we’re hoping for the best case. But we’re preparing for the worst.”
Those looking for general information on the storm can call 407-665-0000.
For business owners looking for information on how the storm will affect them, another hotline at 407-665-1839.

- Larry Griffin, Herald Staff, LGriffin@MySanfordHerald.com

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