Curfew to start Saturday at 9 p.m. in Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — In an emergency meeting held Thursday morning in the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse, Okeechobee County Commissioners voted to declare a state of emergency as Hurricane Irma approaches the state. The commissioners gave Sheriff Noel Stephen the authority to enforce a local curfew.

The city council took similar action on Tuesday, giving Police Chief Robert Peterson that same power.

“In meeting with the police chief, the fire chiefs, the city and county emergency management, we are doing our best to protect all of the citizens in Okeechobee County,” said the sheriff.

He said they started to see increased traffic in the county on Wednesday from those evacuating areas to the south.

“The interstate started getting congested,” he said, causing some drivers to use the state roads.

The sheriff and the police chief have agreed to cut off all alcohol sales just after midnight on Friday (12:01 a.m. Sept. 9).

A curfew will go into effect at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, until the storm passes.

The sheriff said they want all nonessential traffic off the road at that time, until the sheriff issues the “all clear.”

He said he understands that after the storm, people will want to get out and drive around to check the damages, but he is asking that everyone stay off the roads until the curfew is lifted. He said this is a matter of public safety because there could be debris on the road. In addition, nonessential travel could impede or slow emergency vehicles.

“If we get impacted, I would like to keep the highways minimized from travel,” said the sheriff.

“If we get impacted seriously, we can determine what is going on, and secure those areas,” he said.

He said they may also have curfews after the storm, depending on the amount of damage left in Irma’s wake.

“How much damage we get will determine whether we need a curfew after the storm passes,” said the sheriff.

“Give me the power to make the decision based on what I feel is best,” sheriff asked.

The county commissioners agreed it would be most expedient to give their chief law enforcement this authority until the crisis has passed.

During the curfew period, there will be a plan for those who need to travel during curfew, he said, with authorizations provided by the sheriff’s office.

Commissioner Brad Goodbread noted that milk trucks will need to be on the road as soon as the winds die down.

“Most dairy farms do not have the capacity to store two days of milk,” he said. “They will need to have it picked up.”

The sheriff said such drivers could obtain a travel authorization.

“We intend to enact the same rules for the city so there is no confusion,” said Police Chief Peterson. “We all serve the same public.”

At the request of emergency operators director Mitch Smeykal the commissioners declared a state of emergency starting 9 a.m. Friday for a period of seven days.

“This storm has maintained cat 5 strength longer than any hurricane in history,” said Mr. Smeykal.

The path could change, he said.

“We will plan for the worst, hope for the best,” he said.

Tropical storm force winds are expected on Saturday.

He also noted that due to the recent hurricane damage in Texas, emergency resources from the federal government are already slim.

“If this storm is major impact to Miami, it will be 10 days before we see any help in Okeechobee,” he said.

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

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