Residents in evacuation zone A — including Sarasota’s barrier islands — have to evacuate between 2 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Saturday.
Sarasota County has issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents in Evacuation Zone A — which includes the region’s barrier islands — effective at 2 p.m. today.
In addition to Zone A, residents of mobile homes and low-lying areas in the county are ordered to evacuate.
The order reflects Sarasota’s increased vulnerability as forecasts for Hurricane Irma’s landfall in Florida continue to track westward. Residents will have to evacuate between 2 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Saturday. The county issued a voluntary evacuation order for the same area on Thursday.
The latest forecasts have Irma making landfall in south Florida, then pushing up the western third of the state. A hurricane watch extends from the Anclote River around the tip of Florida and through the Keys back up the east coast to the Volusia-Flagler county line. A hurricane warning extends from Bonita Beach to Jupiter Inlet
The county is opening three more shelters later today:
- Booker High School, 3201 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota
- Woodland Middle School, 2700 Panacea Blvd., North Port (pet-friendly)
- Atwater Elementary School, 4701 Huntsville Ave., North Port
Ed McCrane, the county’s emergency management chief, said the county has plans to open additional shelters soon. The county previously opened a pet-friendly shelter at Brookside Middle School, 3636 S. Shade Ave., Sarasota.
At a county press conference this afternoon, McCrane reiterated that local officials are preparing for a worst-case scenario with Irma approaching. McCrane said storm surge could exceed 15 feet if the hurricane's course continues to move to the west.
The county issued the evacuation order because law enforcement cannot respond to calls for service when winds exceed 45 mph. McCrane stressed the urgent need for residents to follow the evacuation order.
“Most deaths occur from drowning in flood waters or storm surge,” McCrane said. “We want to avoid that.”
According to McCrane, it takes about 25-26 hours to clear Zone A, and emergency officials are allowing 30 hours.
On Longboat Key, both the north and south bridges to will be be shut down from incoming traffic by Saturday. Once the storm passes, police officers will establish check points on both ends. Re-entry will be conducted in three tiers, beginning with emergency personel and first responders and residents won’t be allowed onto Longboat until they deem it safe. All residents will also need some type of proof of residency, including but not limited to a drivers license or electric bill, in order to be let back on the island.
Longboat Key Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi cautioned that, even after the storm passes and people are allowed to return, there could still be an extended police and fire presence in the immediate aftermath, and a curfew may be implemented if necessary. In a worst-case scenario, a curfew or restriction could be in place for several days after the storm.
Residents can check for more information regarding shelters on the county website. McCrane said that, in a worst-case scenario, it’s possible the mandatory evacuation will expand to Zone B.
Even now, however, officials remain uncertain how Hurricane Irma will affect Sarasota.
“We don’t know what it’s going to do,” McCrane said. “Every storm has its own personality.”