Preparations for Irma continue

It’s looking like residents can expect Hurricane Irma to be a category 3 to category 4 storm by the time it reaches Okeechobee County, said Mitch Smeykal, the county’s emergency management director.

Mr. Smeykal said as of Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 6., he is expecting the county to be under a state of emergency by Friday morning and that rain total amounts from Irma could be 8 to 10 inches. Those were the projected totals put out by forecast models as of mid-week.

As of Wednesday Irma was a category 5 hurricane with winds reaching 185 mph. If the storm is a category 3 when it reaches Okeechobee, wind speeds will be anywhere from 111 to 129 miles per hour. If it is a category 4 storm, the winds speeds could reach as high as 156 mph. Wind speeds for a category 5 storm are 157 miles per hour or more.

Many residents may want to go to a local shelter to ride out the storm, but when those shelters will open was still up in the air as of mid-week. Mr. Smeykal said when the shelters do open South Elementary School, 2468 S.W. Seventh Ave., will be the first. Osceola Middle School, 825 S.W. 28th St., will be the next shelter to open.

“We’re trying to find the timing to open shelters. It’s a timing issue right now,” said Mr. Smeykal. “The Red Cross started setting up shelters Thursday (Sept. 7), and if we have to open more shelters we will announce openings at that time.

“We hope we can just open two because staffing will be problematic. However, we are training county and school board employees for staffing of shelters,” he added.

Shelter staffing is a problem all across Florida, he added, mainly because so many volunteers went to the Houston, Texas, area to help out after Hurricane Harvey.

Mr. Smeykal went on to say the South Florida Water Management District (SWFMD) has started pumping down area waterways to drop their levels before Irma arrives.

In other notices, the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office weekend work crew will not be working this weekend due to Irma. The sheriff’s office asks that you not show up or call them this weekend if you were slated to work.
Also, some complaints have been filed with the sheriff’s office regarding suspected price gouging. The sheriff’s office does not handle these cases. To file a price gouging complaint, call 1-866-966-7226. Or, go online to http://myfloridalegal.com.

Elsewhere, the Okeechobee City Police Department (OCPD) will have officers on the streets until the winds become too dangerous. There biggest message to citizens is to remain calm and not panic if you are planning on staying here for the storm.

The OCPD also recommends everyone download the Okeechobee County Emergency Management page at the app store for Android and the app store for I-phone because it constantly updates vital information.

Also, the point of distribution after the storm passes will be the Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center on S.R. 70 E. It is recommended you use the center’s entrance on S.R. 710.

Finally, for vital local information call 863-824-6888. For updates, watch the Okeechobee News website or the Okeechobee News page on Facebook.

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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