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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jun. 24, 2020 1 month ago

Emergency chiefs urge shelter use as 'refuge of last resort'

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Longboat Key leaders held a "Zoominar" to outline hurricane preparations.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon held its 18th annual Disaster Preparedness Meeting.

This year’s meeting entitled “Planning in a Pandemic” marked the first time the chamber conducted the meeting virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Not only are we in the middle of a health crisis, and an economic crisis, and a social justice crisis in Florida, we are in hurricane season,” said Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren during Wednesday’s Zoom session.

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is a bit different considering the challenges of social distancing at hurricane shelters. Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Steve Litschauer and Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane urged people to use the counties' facilities as a last resort.

“We used to say it’s a lifeboat, not a cruise ship,” Litschauer said. “This year, I’m saying it’s more like a canoe.”

Sarasota County’s 11 hurricane evacuation centers are pet friendly and will provide 40 square feet per person.

McCrane also urged residents to make preparations, which includes anyone who needs assistance for special needs or medical needs.

“If you need to be part of the Medical Needs Program in Sarasota County, please don’t wait until the last minute,” McCrane said.

Manatee County’s 24 shelters provide 60 square feet per person, and would open in phases in the event of a tropical storm or hurricane. Only three of Manatee County’s shelters are pet friendly. People are allowed to go to any shelter that is not at capacity.

Litschauer estimated Manatee County shelters could accommodate 35% capacity compared to previous years. It comes even despite the county’s existing deficiency of 8,000 spots at its shelters, Litschauer said.

“We can be assured that a shelter is safe from the storm,” Litschauer said. “We cannot 100% assure you that it is safe from COVID. We want to make sure you realize that a shelter this year, more than ever, is a refuge of last resort. Please find a family, a friend, stay in a hotel, go up north, do whatever you can not to be in a shelter. If you have to, then you can.”

McCrane said Sarasota County is also setting up evacuation rally points to help transport people to safety in the event of a storm. Longboat Key’s is going to be in the Publix parking lot on Bay Isles Parkway, McCrane said.

On Wednesday, Police Chief Paul Dezzi and Deputy Police Chief Frank Rubino outlined the evacuation process and the three-tier system the town uses to ensure conditions are safe for residents to return.

Rubino urged residents to bring identification, a water or utility bill to prove Longboat Key residence or employment.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Noah also spoke Wednesday, outlining the expectations for the 2020 hurricane season.

“When you hear these dire predictions, we want you to know, just prepare for one storm each year and forget about the long-range forecast,” Noah said. “We can’t tell you where they’re going to strike and when they’re going to strike and how strong they’re going to be. But, we can say, ‘Hey, we’re expecting an above-normal year, maybe start putting your kit together a little bit earlier.’”

Noah also outlined potential hurricane hazards, including storm surge, freshwater flooding, rain, wind, waves and even tornadoes.

“Nine out of 10 U.S. fatalities due to tropical systems are due to water,” Noah said. “Half are from storm surge. That's our biggest threat.”

The National Hurricane Center is forecasting between 13-19 named storms during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. There have already been four tropical storms: Arthur and Bertha in May, and Cristobal and Dolly in June.

The NHC is forecasting between six to 10 hurricanes in 2020. The normal amount is six.

Noah said NHC meteorologists forecast between three to six major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) in 2020. The normal amount is three.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. 
 

Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

See All Articles by Mark

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