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County could cut Longboat water supply before storm, chief says

The town urges residents to prepare before the likely order to evacuate.

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  • | 12:15 p.m. September 26, 2022
Residents fill sandbags at the town's site at the Broadway Street beach parking area. (File photo)
Residents fill sandbags at the town's site at the Broadway Street beach parking area. (File photo)
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Urging the town to take seriously the threats of Hurricane Ian, Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi on Monday morning told residents, building managers and resort operators to continue planning today but be ready to evacuate in the next 24 hours.

Sarasota County leaders on Monday declared a state of emergency, though evacuations had not yet been ordered by 11 a.m. Sarasota County Schools told parents classes would be canceled on Tuesday at least, possibly paving the way for the opening of evacuation shelters.

The city of Sarasota also declared a state of emergency. The declaration provides the city with more flexibility regarding expenditures and allocating resources, which may be necessary with storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico breaching portions of Ben Franklin Drive, additional localized street flooding, and the potential for wind damage caused by strong wind gusts and tornadoes.

Read more: Hurricane Ian updates, news in Sarasota and Manatee counties

Longboat Key, along with all other barrier islands in the area, would be in the first wave of evacuations to be ordered, along with an order for residents of mobile homes. Dezzi said the goal is to launch an evacuation during daylight hours, with the first hints of tropical storm force winds of 39 mph or greater expected as early as 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Water service to Longboat Key could be cut as a precaution Tuesday evening, a move by Manatee County intended to protect the system. Dezzi said the shutdown could also have an added effect.

“That will sometimes cause residents not to want to stay,’’ Dezzi said. “Once the water is shut off, you must understand, you can’t take showers, you can’t flush toilets.’’

Dezzi also reminded residents of tall buildings that they are not immune from storms and they should also leave the island when ordered.

Allen Parsons, the town’s director of Planning, Zoning and Building, said the tower crane operating at the site of the Residences at the St. Regis Resort Longboat Key is being lowered by two sections to comply with its design standards for a Category 4 storm. The crane portion will be allowed to swivel with the wind, as designed. Smaller cranes at the site will be secured and set on their sides.

Contractors all around the island, Parsons said, have been advised since last week to storm-proof their sites and remove or secure items that can fly in the wind.

Hurricane Ian, forecast to move parallel to Florida’s west coast on its way to a Friday morning landfall near Cedar Key, could bring 7-10 inches of rain and a storm surge of up to 10 feet, which could be catastrophic.

Hillsborough County on Monday ordered evacuations in anticipation of Ian’s winds driving a dangerous storm surge up Tampa Bay, long considered one of the most serious contingencies.

Dezzi said the town’s police will work with other law enforcement personnel to ensure a smooth evacuation, if called, and re-entry based on the town’s three-tiered system that calls for first responders to return first, then operators of key businesses, then residents with identification.

Dezzi said in a worst-case scenario, it could be days before residents can return. He pointed to the restarting procedures for the water system, which would require time to regain safe levels of sanitizing chemicals.

Sarasota will likely close the Ringling Bridge before the storm and won’t likely reopen it until after the winds have subsided.

“Once we know it’s safe to return to the island, it might not be safe to live on the island,’’ Dezzi said, adding that first responders will not open up the town to returning residents until safety can be confirmed.

“I’m usually pretty conservative, and I try not to jump the gun,’’ Dezzi said, “but you need to really think about this storm.’’


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