Longboat Key is under a hurricane watch that begins at Anclote Island and covers the southern half of Florida to Sebastian Inlet on the Atlantic Coast.
The Longboat Key Commission unanimously approved a request from emergency personnel to declare a state of emergency for the island ahead of Hurricane Irma. Friday, Sarasota County announced a mandatory evacuation of the barrier islands would begin at 2 p.m.
The state of emergency is a formal declaration that allows easier coordination with state and federal emergency agencies, said Longboat Key Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi. It will have little direct effect on Longboat residents but will assist local recovery efforts if necessary.
Longboat Key officials urged everyone to heed the evacuation orders and to remember to bring identification that proves their local residency. It will be required to return to the Key when the all clear is given.
Officials urge residents to know about how an evacuation and re-entry would work on the island.
Longboat Key Fire-Rescue will oversee the evacuation, 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.
Longboat residents are reminded to take with them food, water, gas and vital documents including identification.
"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.
Dezzi cautioned that northbound interstates were already jammed and encouraged all evacuating residents to find an inland, nearby location for shelter.
“You don’t have to go to Georgia or Tennessee or some place,” Dezzi said. “There are safe places around here.”
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.
As for Longboat Key resorts, some are seeing cancellations, such as Casa Del Mar, the Resort at Longboat Key Club and Zota Beach Resort.
“At this time we are not seeing any significant increase in reservations due to the storm. We experienced a number of cancellations, which was expected. Over the next couple days I anticipate more people will be looking for rooms as they finalize their plans," a statement from Sandra Rios, director of marketing and communications for The Resort at Longboat Key Club and Zota said.
The Diplomat Beach Resort posted to their Facebook page around 2 p.m. Sept. 7 saying they would be closing at 5 p.m. until further notice.
"As of Thursday, 9/7 at 5:00 p.m. we are closed until further notice due to Hurricane Irma," the post said. "We will have no access to our phones or computers, nor will we have any staff available to assist you. Our apologies for the inconvenience! We wish the best to all our fellow Floridians, stay safe!"
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.