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Sarasota shelters prepare to take in evacuees

If you're thinking about going to one, you probably should, Superintendent Todd Bowden said.

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  • | 4:30 p.m. September 8, 2017
  • Sarasota
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The floor of a high school cafeteria isn’t somewhere you’d typically want to sleep — but with all the preparations by the emergency staff at Booker High School in Sarasota, it really doesn’t look so bad.

Booker High has turned into one of four shelters open in the county for those who had to evacuate in front of Hurricane Irma, and on Friday afternoon a group of school district employees, Red Cross volunteers and county staff were preparing the facility to house up to 1250 people.

Todd Bowden consults with shelter staff.
Todd Bowden consults with shelter staff.

“Our objective is to keep you alive,” Sarasota Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden said.

The shelter has all the necessities to do that. 20-square-foot areas are marked off for each person. Showers will be open after a certain time. They have food and water, to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, “but you will not be impressed by it,” Bowden said.

The Booker High School shelter even has some non-necessities, like a bedtime snack and a set-up for a movie night, five charging stations and — maybe most important — free wifi.

“This is maybe a pretty bad one,” said Principal of Booker High School, and now Shelter Manager, Dr. Rachel Shelley. “We want to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Bowden said he would be in constant communication with the Emergency Operations Center. They would be monitoring how many people go to the shelter, and use that information to determine when to open other shelters.

And at Booker High School, when the EOC determines the area is in an “active storm event,” evacuees will be moved from the cafeteria and be given a space in the hallways of a newer, stronger building.

As for who should go to shelters, a mandatory evacuation is in place for residents in Zone A — low-lying areas, all of the barrier islands and mobile homes. Those residents need to evacuate by 8 p.m. Saturday.

Dave Norrgard pumps up an air mattress in preparation for a night at the shelter.
Dave Norrgard pumps up an air mattress in preparation for a night at the shelter.

Dave Norrgard, Vito Munoz and Lisa Franchi all came to the shelter when they heard about the evacuation warning. They live in mobile homes on Tuttle Avenue, and got to the shelter early to wait out the storm.

“It’s been hectic just thinking about it for this length of time,” Norrgard said. “I just want to get it over and done with.”

Kimberly Sims and her mother, Teri Barnett, came from Ohio and Indiana to vacation at a resort on Longboat Key. But when they were ordered to evacuate, the manager of their hotel helped them find Booker High School. Now, in their corner of the shelter, they both plan on praying.

“We came here to vacation in a resort,” Barnett said. “This wasn’t on the agenda. But there’s going to be a lesson in this.”

You do not have to be ordered to evacuate in order to go to a shelter. Bowden said coming early is better than coming late, and if you are considering it, the answer is most likely "yes."

“If you’re thinking about coming to a shelter, you probably need to come to a shelter,” he said.

After the storm is over, people can leave, but the shelters will remain open in case anyone’s home has sustained damage. Staff will help find a place for those who return to go.