Manatee County declares state of emergency as Irma approaches.
Diana Greene, the School District of Manatee County superintendent, announced Wednesday that county schools will be open on Thursday, but will be closed Friday in anticipation of Hurricane Irma.
Schools that will serve as shelters will begin preparations to open to the public when students are released on Thursday.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Manatee County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday declared Manatee County in a state of local emergency.
The declaration is meant to better prepare the community for the potential impact of a major hurricane and gives power to the Manatee County Public Safety Department to call the shots.
"Several counties have already made declarations, or will be sometime this afternoon," said Bob Smith, the Manatee County Public Safety Department director. "This is a very powerful storm."
Smith said the county should expect 10 to 15 inches of rain in addition to extremely strong winds.
Those living in evacuation level A — people at the highest risk of potential storm surge inundation (11 feet) which includes mobile homes and manufactured — will be asked to evacuate that area by the latest, Friday morning, allowing a full 24 hours to gather their belongings and leave their homes before the strongest part of the storm hits.
"There is about 50,000 people in level A and about the same living in mobile parks making for around 100,000 people in Manatee County set to begin evacuating on Friday," Smith said. "If the storm continues to exert tropical storm force winds by Saturday morning, a lot of the counties south of us will already be evacuating."
Commissioners are concerned any rain might result in more flooding throughout the county which has been saturated by heavy rainfall over the past two weeks.
"Flooding can happen to anyone," said Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, District 4. "Right now, get all of your important papers together in plastic storage bins and have your medications for a couple of weeks. Don't be scrambling at the last minute. We can replace things but we can't replace people."
District 5 County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh urged local residents to get out sooner rather than later.
"You have commissioners up here that are looking at evacuating," Baugh said. "There is no need to stay here when a Category 5 hurricane is coming at us. Just go, and go now."
Click here for more information on how to prepare for Hurricane Irma.