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Longboat Key makes preparations ahead of Eta

The town is not planning to evacuate as of noon Wednesday.

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  • | 7:00 p.m. November 11, 2020
Standing water was rising on the island as of Wednesday morning around 11:30 a.m.
Standing water was rising on the island as of Wednesday morning around 11:30 a.m.
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UPDATE: As of 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Gulf of Mexico Drive is closed in both directions at the 2100 block due to a downed power line. Longboat Key Police are diverting traffic via Harbourside Drive and Bay Isles Parkway, according to a tweet from the Town of Longboat Key. Florida Power and Light estimated the roadway will be closed for approximately two hours. 

The town of Longboat Key continued to make preparations Wednesday ahead of Hurricane Eta but stopped short of urging residents to leave their homes.

During a call with town stakeholders, Fire Chief Paul Dezzi said the town has had calls with the emergency operations centers in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Both counties have declared a state of emergency.

“The concern with this storm is the storm surge,” Dezzi said.

The National Weather Service is forecasting the storm surge to be between 3-5 feet. Dezzi said flooding and beach erosion are expected.

According to the National Hurricane Center’s 10 a.m. Wednesday update, Eta remain near hurricane strength Wednesday night as it approaches the west coast of Florida in the Big Bend region, with rapid weakening expected after landfall on Thursday.

As of noon ET Wednesday, the town of Longboat Key does not have plans to evacuate. 

“Currently, we’re asking all residents and citizens to shelter in place,” Dezzi said.

Dezzi said if Longboat Key decided to evacuate, the Sarasota County Emergency Operations Center would assist the town.

“We do not have anything in place for an evacuation,” Dezzi said. “There are no shelters in Sarasota that are open currently.”

Between 4-6 inches of rainfall is expected with the peak of the rain coming between 2 p.m. Wednesday and 2 a.m. Thursday. Tropical storm force winds of 30-35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph are forecast as early as 2 p.m. Wednesday. Dezzi suggested for anyone leaving the island to do so well before 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Town Manager Tom Harmer also closed the public beach access points on Wednesday morning.

Eta continues to track toward Florida's Gulf Coast as of 10 a.m. Wednesday. Photo Credit: National Hurricane Center
Eta continues to track toward Florida's Gulf Coast as of 10 a.m. Wednesday. Photo Credit: National Hurricane Center

“If you see people out on the beach, if you see people out on the water, we are not encouraging that at all at this time,” Dezzi said.

The town has set up a self-filling sandbag station for residents and business owners at 100 Broadway Street. Proof of residency is required. Up to 10 bags are available for each household or business owner.

“Be cautious if you have to go outside and drive,” Dezzi said.

The town has also set up high water signs throughout the island. Dezzi said there is the possibility of downed power lines and power outages.

Publix announced it was closing the Longboat Key location at 2 p.m.

On Thursday morning, the town is expected to conduct a damage assessment of the island once Eta passes.

The town will utilize its social media pages to communicate on the conditions of the storm.

“This was a very quick turn for us,” Dezzi said of Eta tracking towards Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Manatee County public safety director Jacob Sauer echoed Dezzi’s sentiment.

“Make no mistake, it's going to be a rough night (for the island communities),” Sauer said. “But it will drastically improve after (Thursday) morning.”

As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, Hurricane Eta is a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. Eta is about 115 miles west-southwest of Port Charlotte, Florida, and about 145 miles south-southwest of Tampa, Florida. It is moving north-northeast at 10 mph.

The National Weather Service has issued a storm surge warning for Florida’s west coast from the Suwannee River to Bonita Beach, including Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is also closed Wednesday because of the high winds.