National Guard on the way to Okeechobee County; Hurricane shelters to open at 2 p.m.

Okeechobee County continues to prepare for the expected landfall of Hurricane Irma,

Emergency operations director Mitch Smeykal said the local state of emergency went into effect at 9 a.m. Friday.

He said a pre-landfall declaration of emergency has been approved by the White House.

Mr. Smeykal said the a mandatory evacuation is in place for areas on the south side of the lake. Evacuation is voluntary for Okeechobee County.

The National Guard is sending 200 guardsmen to Okeechobee County in advance of the storm.

South Elementary School will open as a hurricane shelter at 2 p.m. today (Friday, Sept. 8)

If the first primary shelter fills up, a second shelter will open at Osceola Middle School.

Initially, the shelters will allocate 20 sq. ft per person of space. If necessary, they will reduce that to 15 sq. ft per person.

If both South Elementary and Osceola Middle School shelters are full, a third shelter will be opened at Yearling Middle School,

South Elementary has a capacity of 488 persons; Osceola Middle School has 516 people; Yearling Middle School, 681.

South Elementary and Osceola Middle will have staffing by Red Cross.

There are no pet-friendly shelters in Okeechobee County. Mr. Smeykal said this is something they plan to work on in the future.

The pet-friendly shelters in Indian River and Palm Beach Counties require pre-registration as well as current shot records for the animals.
Areas south of the lake, mandatory evacuations have been put in place. Okeechobee County is on voluntary evacuation.

Three areas of the dike where culvert work is underway are at risk of overtopping or overwash. These culverts are near Clewiston, Harney Pond and between Belle Glade and Pahokee.

Mandatory evacuation has been ordered for Lakeport. Residents are encouraged to seek shelter with friends or relatives if possible. Anyone who needs transportation is to meet at Maple Grove Baptist Church between 3 and 4 p.m. TRANSPORTATION WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE AFTER 4 P.M. Anyone with their own vehicle can drive to the West Glades Elementary School, 2586 CR 431 in Muse.

Those who go to shelters should bring bedding, food, water, medications and toiletries for their families. No firearms or alcohol are allowed in shelters.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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