As the track of Hurricane Ian gradually came into focus, officials in Sarasota and Sarasota County began to put emergency plans into action as did residents.
On Monday, Sarasota County ordered evacuation Level A for residents on or nearest the coast and added Level B on Tuesday. Public schools in Sarasota County are also closed potentially through Thursday, many of them converted into temporary shelters.
At 5 a.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center issued this warning: "There is a danger of life-threatening storm surge along much of the Florida west coast where a storm surge warning has been issued, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region. Residents in these areas should listen to advice given by local officials."
Heeding the warning, long lines of residents showed up more than two hours early to a county sandbag site at Ed Smith Stadium, the hours for which had been extended.
Chris Ransom, Patty Avery and Jeanine Arguello were among the first, arriving around 6 a.m. to the site that opened at 8 a.m.
"It started shifting again to the south,'' Arguello said of the storm's predicted landfall as she shoveled sand through a makeshift funnel crafted from a cut-off orange traffic cone.
"It looks like the center might go right over us,'' Avery said.
Cars, trucks and vans backed up from the the serpentine line within the stadium parking lot to Tuttle Avenue, around the corner at 12th Street as far back as the stadium's main entrance.
Kristine Ensing, who was experiencing her first hurricane in Florida, worked in her car with a laptop computer on the passenger seat while the line moved slowly in front of her. She said she was told the wait from her spot in the line might extend to two hours, and workers said they were told they needed to shut the gates by noon.
"I'm not even sure where to put sandbags,'' she said.
Emergency Management Director Ed McCrane said emergency shelters would open at noon for evacuees, which includes the barrier islands and residents who live in RVs, mobile homes and boats. Visit SCGov.net to check your evacuation level.
Shelters in Sarasota include:
Booker High School.
Brookside Middle School.
Fruitville Elementary School.
Gulf Gate Elementary School.
Philippi Shores Elementary School.
Riverview High School.
Southside Elementary School.
“When you go to that evacuation center at noon please eat a meal before you come; bring all your disaster supplies; your emergency kit including bedding, toiletries, water and supplies,” McCrane said. "It's very important to bring a flashlight with you as well and continue to monitor local media and county social media channels.”
The decision to evacuate the barrier islands and other flood-prone areas comes as the National Weather Service forecast storm surge at five to 10 feet.
“Those could be inundated by storm surge if that threat presents itself, and based on the information that we have there's a potential for enough storm surge to affect level A,” McCrane said. “So regardless of the year of your home, regardless of what floor you're on. If you live in Level A you need to evacuate.”
For those who cannot drive to an evacuation center, Sarasota County will provide bus transportation for them and their pets to and from an evacuation center. The ride program is activated only when Sarasota County has a declared county emergency, an activation is ordered, and evacuation centers are opened.
Transportation is offered at designated rally points throughout the county. In Sarasota, those include:
Colonial Oaks Park, 5300 Colonial Oaks Blvd.
Lido Beach, 400 Benjamin Franklin Drive.
Potter Park, 8587 Potter Park Dr.
SCAT Downtown Transfer Station, 150 N. Lemon Ave.
SCAT UTC Transfer Station, 500 N. Cattlemen Road.
Siesta Beach, 948 Beach Road.
Transport will be provided by Sarasota County Area Transit and school district buses. Space on buses will be limited and riders must bring a fee ask and be prepared to wear it on the bus. Baggage is limited to two carry-on size bags per person that can be stored under a seat or held in your lap. Pets must be in a crate or carrier, and you must bring all pet supplies. Passengers cannot specify which shelter and all transportation will cease operations within eight hours of expected landfall.
“If you live in a home outside of an evacuation area that you've protected with impact windows or hurricane shutters, and your home was built since 2002, you’re safe in your home for this type of event,” McCrane said. “Don't go to the evacuation center unless you need to as a last resort.”
The city of Sarasota also declared a state of emergency. According to a release, municipal crews are out clearing storm drains, positioning generators to maintain water and sewer service in the event of a power failure and working with construction companies to ensure work sites are safe and equipment such as cranes are secured.
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.
Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.