Residents who live in a non-evacuation zone are grappling with a judgment call: Is my home safe enough for Hurricane Irma's wrath?
The zones that have been evacuated were evacuated because of concerns about water — in other words, the storm surge.
But wind is likely to affect people all over the county, particularly if Irma spins off tornadoes, as hurricanes often do.
"We evacuate from water, we hide from wind," said Assistant Pinellas County Administrator John Bennett.
Here are some answers from experts that can help you determine whether your home is safe enough to hide inside of, and what to do when the storm hits.
How do people in non-evacuation zones gauge whether it's safe enough to stay in their house?
There's no single test. The decision has to be made after considering various factors, including a home's construction and age.
Definitely consider the condition of windows, roofs and garage doors.
"Do you have impact resistant windows or shutters? Did you use plywood to board windows? Do you have a gabled roof? Those need to be properly braced in," said Josh Boatwright, Pinellas County government spokesman. "Old garage doors can be braced with retrofit kits, but new doors have to meet pretty stringent wind requirements."
Residents should be prepared to find a safe room in advance. If the power goes out and the wind starts howling like a train whistle, it's too late to start planning for a place to hide.
Where are the safest places to be in a house during a powerful hurricane?
You know you should head to the "safe room" when winds feel dangerous. It can be a closet or inside room, generally on the first floor.
According to county guidance, identify a room that has a solid-core door with heavy duty hinges. Use long screws to securely anchor hinges, and use a deadbolt lock if one is there.
• In a one-story house, choose a room in the center with few or no windows.
• In a two-story house, go to an interior room on the first floor, such as a bathroom, closet or space under the stairs.
• In a multiple-story building, head for interior rooms away from windows on the first or second floors. Interior stairwells and areas around elevators shafts are generally the strongest parts of a building.
Stay inside until you hear or see an official message that the hurricane is over, as the weather can calm if the eye of the storm passes before it turns severe again. Hold off on repairs until the storm passes.
"It's better to hide from the wind than if you have a breach of some kind and trying to deal with it in the moment," Boatwright said. "If you can't make it to a safe room, lying on the floor under a table might be your best bet."
What should people keep with them in their safe room?
In that room or closet, store a mattress or some other soft materials to provide cushioning and protection in case the house is breached by the storm. Also in there should be water, some food, and something to provide lighting like a good flashlight with fresh batteries (avoid candles).
"Make sure you have all that stuff at a place you can get to it," Boatwright said. "We don't know what impact the storm will have, but it's quite possible to imagine people might have to go without water or power for sometime, so be ready to be self-sufficient for a few days."
What else should people know during the storm?
Be prepared, not alarmed — especially if you have a family.
"We tell people with children try to stay calm for their sake and not panic," Boatwright said. Have a flashlight or lantern ready. Have a battery-powered radio ready."
Boatwright said the flooding impact of the storm is still unpredictable. People should be cautious even after the storm passes.
"It's important not to move around quickly in floodwaters, even if it appears to be shallow water," he said "It doesn't take much water for you to lose control of your car."
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