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Plant City Observer Thursday, Sep. 7, 2017 2 months ago

Cat. 5 Hurricane Irma heads toward Florida, path unsure

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As the strongest hurricane to ever pass through the Atlantic Ocean makes its way west, Plant City braces for impact.
by: Daniel Figueroa IV Staff Writer

Following Hurricane Harvey’s devastating effects on Texas and Louisiana, Floridians are taking the looming threat of the potentially catastrophic Hurricane Irma more seriously than warnings past.

Irma Tuesday was upgraded to a category 5 storm. As of noon Wednesday, Irma had sustained winds of more than 180 miles per hour, making it the most powerful storm to ever make its way through the Atlantic.

In Plant City, supermarkets were running low on supplies as early as Tuesday. Water became a scarce commodity, even on the Internet. The city began sandbag distribution, as well,

City crews help residents load sandbags into a trunk. Residents with valid Plant City I.D.s are able to get up to 10 sandbags at a time and can return for more.

Tuesday and the reaction was swift.

Kenny Wiggins grabbed sandbags from the city’s maintenance facility at 1302 W. Spencer St., preparing to weather the storm.

“We’re definitely worried,” Wiggins said. “We’re battening down the hatches. We took everything inside, bought all the water and canned goods. We’re gonna ride this out, I guess.”

“People are taking it more serious,” George Mendoza said, filling sandbags. “As we keep making them, they keep taking them. They just keep coming and now you’ve got Jose behind it.”

The message from the city, though, remains don’t panic, prepare.

“It’s about being prepared. Getting prepared,” City Engineer Mike Schenk said. “The response has been much more than normal during these events.”

The city itself is preparing too, Schenk said. Emergency preparedness meetings are taking place daily as the situation gets updated. Generators are being fueled, streets are being identified for primary, secondary and tertiary debris removal, if needed, and outside contracts for emergency debris removal are poised to be activated.

The storm’s impact on Florida is still uncertain as it begins to enter the Caribbean, with many models taking it through the center of the state and some turning it back to the Atlantic. Whatever the tract, Schenk said, there is no panic in the city, just calm preparedness as more information becomes available.

“Everything is dependent on that storm track,” Schenk said. “We’ll have a great deal more Friday. Where the path goes will determine how strong the storm and the response is.”

Jon Finley handed out Gatorade and other supplies with City Pointe Church at Southern Hospitality.

Schenk said it’s important to follow instructions handed through local news organizations and relevant agencies.

A disaster preparedness guide and evacuation routes can be found at floridadisaster.org.

Plant City might lay outside of storm surge zones and coastal evacuation zones, but, Schenk said, high wind and rain could still pummel the city, causing road closures and power outages.

According to the Hillsborough County Disaster Planning Guide it’s important to have a plan for a disaster, including what to do in case of an evacuation and making sure to stock up on supplies including a gallon of water per day per person, canned and nonperishable food, flashlights with batteries and hand crank radios and chargers.

Local news can be the best source for up-to-date information during a disaster, but other information can be found quickly by paying attention to the social media accounts of city, county and state emergency agencies.

Daniel Figueroa IV is a Staff Writer at the Plant City Times & Observer. He has been covering Plant City since 2017. Previously, he was the politics and veteran affairs reporter at the Ledger of Lakeland. He probably wants to ride motorcycles and trade books with...

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