Thursday, May 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Emergency officials worry about flood of evacuees with special needs during hurricane

No matter how emergency managers say it, no matter how grave their predictions, people wait for the last minute to prepare.

Were a hurricane to hit the Tampa Bay area today, the opening day of hurricane season, tens of thousands of individuals with special needs would not be registered for appropriate shelters, local health agencies say.

In Hillsborough County, about 3,000 people have registered for special needs accommodations, a fraction of the estimated 15,000 who may need extra care. Across the bay, 1,500 of an estimated 20,000 have signed up.

This is a recurring frustration for emergency management officials, who fear an eleventh-hour struggle of trying to accommodate vulnerable populations.

"You can't just wait until the storm gets here," said Pinellas County emergency management spokesman Tom Iovino.

All residents are encouraged to establish a hurricane plan that addresses what to do in the event of an evacuation. But procrastination is especially dangerous for individuals with special needs, medical conditions and pets, officials say.

"Relative to the number of people who need these services, there's still a large population we need to reach," said Keeley Smith, the Hillsborough County coordinator for special needs shelters.

Three of the 32 shelters in Pinellas and three of the 48 in Hillsborough will offer services for vulnerable populations. That care includes on-site doctors, nurses and generators to support medical equipment.

Of course, not everyone will need to be in a shelter. And for most it should be a "last-ditch" effort, Iovino said. Staying with family or a friend will be more comfortable. Plus, the shelters lack capacity for every individual with special needs.

Bottom line, officials said, is everyone needs some kind of plan. And that means contacting the right people now.

It's the same story with pet owners.

"During Hurricane Katrina, we saw people who wouldn't evacuate because they were protecting the only family member they had — their pet," said Hills­borough County Animal Services spokeswoman Marti Ryan. "No one wants to see that tragedy again."

Pet-friendly shelters will be established throughout the Tampa Bay area, with three in Pinellas and four in Hillsborough.

Animal owners must register to reserve a spot at one of Pinellas County's pet friendly shelters. So far, fewer than 20 have signed up. In Hillsborough, owners and their pets will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

The shelters are mostly meant for dogs, cats and rabbits. Snakes and other reptiles will be turned away.

If people choose to take refuge in one of these shelters, they should come prepared with identification, proof of their pet's vaccinations and a cage, Ryan said.

Pet shelters, Iovino repeated, should be a last resort.

Ryan emphasized the importance of not leaving a pet behind in a hurricane-induced frenzy.

"The animal ends up on the streets. . . . They become aggressive and dangerous," she said. "They can't fend for themselves and they become a danger to others."

Because the area has not suffered a direct blow from a hurricane in more than 90 years, authorities can plan based only on estimates and simulations.

A real storm, they said, could change everything.

"You only get so many rehearsals for a disaster before you have to do it for real," Ryan said. "That's why preparation is so key."

Marissa Lang can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804.

Comments
NOAA: Scientists predict 10 to 16 named storms this hurricane season

NOAA: Scientists predict 10 to 16 named storms this hurricane season

Scientists are in consensus: The 2018 hurricane season could be an active one.On Thursday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its 2018 Atlantic hurricane seasonal outlook. It’s calling for between 10 and 16 named storms, five...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Forecasters: 90 percent chance low-pressure area becomes tropical system in gulf

Forecasters: 90 percent chance low-pressure area becomes tropical system in gulf

ST. PETERSBURG — The National Hurricane Center has raised the likelihood that a low pressure system moving up through the Caribbean will become a tropical system as it enters the gulf for Memorial Day weekend.Thursday afternoon, the hurricane center ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Get set for a rainy holiday weekend across Tampa Bay

Get set for a rainy holiday weekend across Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG -- After nine straight days of rain, the bay area received a much needed respite Wednesday — sunny skies and temperatures in the high 80s. Peter O’Neill, 50, enjoyed seeing the sun again as he sat in Thunder Alley outside ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18

Stock up for hurricanes, Buckhorn warns, or ‘we may be coming for you in a body bag’

TAMPA — Stuff that hurricane kit full of batteries, pen that emergency plan and get as many gallons of water stored in that garage while the skies are blue and clouds are fluffy white. That was the message Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other city off...
Published: 05/23/18
Termite damage poses a threat as hurricane season approaches, study says

Termite damage poses a threat as hurricane season approaches, study says

The start of hurricane season is just days away, and Florida residents might want to add one more thing to their preparation list: a termite inspection.Termite damage in houses and trees can leave homes vulnerable to suffering even more damage during...
Published: 05/23/18
Forecast: Caribbean storm could grow into tropical system

Forecast: Caribbean storm could grow into tropical system

A storm system in the Caribbean Sea could grow into a tropical cyclone within five days, according to the National Hurricane Center. Forecasters give the system a 50 percent chance to develop. The storm’s low-pressure center on Tuesday was ne...
Published: 05/22/18
Forecast: Potential tropical system threatens to drench already soggy Tampa Bay area

Forecast: Potential tropical system threatens to drench already soggy Tampa Bay area

An area of low pressure is drifting in the northwest Caribbean and could develop tropical conditions while it travels into the Gulf of Mexico and toward the west coast of Florida by the end of the week, according to the National Hurricane Center. For...
Published: 05/22/18
Less than one year after historic flooding, Alafia River spills its banks again

Less than one year after historic flooding, Alafia River spills its banks again

LITHIA — Frank Rodriguez was still several hundred yards from his house Monday when he pulled his SUV to the side of the road and changed into a pair of beach shoes.Ahead of him, the way home along River Drive was submerged. He was spared a wade thro...
Published: 05/21/18
Forecasters monitoring system in Caribbean as rain persists across Tampa Bay

Forecasters monitoring system in Caribbean as rain persists across Tampa Bay

More tropical showers and thunderstorms could be headed to Tampa Bay as a low pressure system that is developing in Western Caribbean waters is expected to track up through the Gulf of Mexico, promising more rain for an already soggy region. Much lik...
Published: 05/21/18
A warm, muggy Saturday with maybe some rain this afternoon

A warm, muggy Saturday with maybe some rain this afternoon

Expect a nice day, but keep an umbrella handy, especially for later in the afternoon.The forecast from the National Weather Service in Ruskin calls for warm and muggy temperatures around the Tampa Bay area today and Sunday with daytime highs in the l...
Published: 05/19/18