PUNTA GORDA — About 10:15 a.m., officials pulled down the shutter over the front door of the Charlotte County Emergency Operations Center.
Tropical-storm force winds had arrived, and it was time to shelter in place.
"For a day, we're not going anywhere," said Charlotte County Fire Chief Bill Van Helden. "We finally came to a place where we're shutting down all fire, EMS and sheriff's office responses."
Crews will not try the roads as the hurricane descends. Weather models show that Irma is extremely wide and could move slowly, bringing strong winds to the area around Punta Gorda for about 24 hours.
For people who decided not to evacuate, Van Helden said: "It will be hours, if not over a day, before we can get to you."
Some forecasts call for 9 feet of storm surge or more in parts of southwest Florida. Van Helden recommended people in homes at risk for surge keep a heavy tool with them, like an ax, in case they have to flee to their attics and break through their roofs.
The people of Punta Gorda are familiar with big storms. Hurricane Charley decimated the city in 2004. The crawl of Irma up the coast has sent many residents into panic.
"This could be Charley, but with the surge," Van Helden said.