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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017 5 years ago

Longboat leaders still wary of Irma's local effects

Decision still pending on possible evacuation, but officials want residents to know re-entry plans.
by: Ryan Butler News Innovation Editor

Hurricane Irma's predicted course for late this weekend took a turn to the east on Wednesday, but Longboat Key emergency managers are still wary of the storm's possible effects on the gulf coast barrier islands. 

The latest forecasts indicate tropical storm force winds could still strike Longboat Key even with the hurricane close to the Atlantic Coast. The most-severe rains would likely stay to the east, though. Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming said officials are hopeful this shift to the east will head off the need for an evacuation, though Cumming cautioned it was still too early to make a final determination.

He and other regional leaders will have another meeting at 11 a.m. Thursday to discuss the storm's path and possible effects.

Officials urge residents to know about how an evacuation and re-entry would work on the island.

Longboat Key Fire-Rescue will oversee an evacuation if necessary, while the town's police department will head up the re-entry, setting up checkpoints on both ends of the island and overseeing residents’ return as damage and safety concerns will allow.

County and town leaders met Wednesday afternoon to discuss the latest developments of the storm after projections showed it shifting north and toward the east coast of Florida, away from Longboat Key. Longboat Key Police Chief Peter Cumming said that projections have Irma bringing heavy sustained winds to the island, but without the more than 10 inches of rainfall that could hit the rest of the state.

Officials are hopeful this development will prevent an evacuation, though Cumming cautioned it was still to early to make a final determination. He and other regional leaders will have another meeting at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Should the storm turn back toward the west coast and officials call an evacuation, Longboat residents are reminded to take with them food, water, gas and vital documents including identification.  Longboat would join other barrier island communities in the first round of evacuations to the mainland.

"If there are evacuation orders, go," said Town Manager Dave Bullock. "There’s no reason to stay here."

Returning to the island would be staged in a tiered approach, with first responders assessing damage before anyone else is allowed back. 

Once they've secured the island, a second tier of government and private sector employees critical to infrastructure support will be permitted entry. This group includes essential condominium and hotel leaders and their staffs, banking organizations, food suppliers and other business operators critical to recovery.

Residents and individuals entering during this phase should expect to have their residency or affiliation with a local business challenged when they seek re-entry, according to the town's plan.

Remaining business and town residents will be subsequently allowed entry. All re-entry requests are still subject to assessments from police and will require identification.

Residents will not need a decal from police to leave the island, as has occurred in previous storms, but will be given one when they return. This will provide identification permitting residents to come and go on the island without going through the security check again.

According to the town’s plan, curfews may be enforced to limit the duration of the re-entry period while roadblocks and security check points may be established.

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