Residents brace as storm threatens Pasco

In preparing for Tropical Storm Fay, Don Martin of Dade City loads water onto a cart at Home Depot in Zephyrhills on Monday. He also picked up a portable air conditioner. Some residents made major purchases while others took a wait-and-see attitude.

MIKE PEASE | Times

In preparing for Tropical Storm Fay, Don Martin of Dade City loads water onto a cart at Home Depot in Zephyrhills on Monday. He also picked up a portable air conditioner. Some residents made major purchases while others took a wait-and-see attitude.

Pasco County officials are urging residents who live on the coast, in flood-prone areas or anywhere in a manufactured home to evacuate to safer ground as Tropical Storm Fay makes its way into the Tampa Bay area today.

The county is opening five shelters, including a pet-friendly one, at 7 a.m. today for the residents in evacuation zone "A."

About 112,340 people live in that evacuation zone, county spokesman Eric Keaton said.

Emergency management officials are also telling people in nonevacuation areas to secure their property and continue preparing for the storm.

As of Monday evening, Tropical Storm Fay's effects were still too early to predict, said Tom Dougherty, a forecaster from the National Weather Service. Pasco residents should expect thunderstorms all day today, with wind gusts of up to 45 mph. Winds will die down to 20 mph on Wednesday, with showers and thunderstorms expected.

While Pasco schools and courts are closed, other government operations are up in the air.

Pasco transit officials say they will decide whether to run the public buses based on conditions this morning, said Keaton.

City government officials said Monday said they expected business as usual today but were keeping public works departments on alert to deal with fallen trees and power outages.

Dade City commissioners took the most dramatic action on Monday, declaring a local state of emergency. The declaration gives City Manager Billy Poe, Mayor Scott Black and City Clerk Jim Class the authority to make purchases and rent emergency equipment without the commission's approval.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Doug Tobin said officials at the jail in Land O'Lakes are on constant storm watch after a near-disaster at the site in December.

An early morning tornado Dec. 16 demolished a temporary housing structure, just moments after 185 inmates were evacuated from it. An exact replica has been erected in its place: a vast, fortified tent-like building needed to ease overcrowding.

If needed, he said, the inmates, most of whom are deemed low-risk, can be held in the jail's hallways, cafeterias or common areas.

• • •

In the county's coastal neighborhoods, people were moving lawn chairs inside Monday and considering their options.

Barbie Meyer, 52, was working up a sweat as she hustled around her yard, carting a child's plastic slide. But as she looked up and down her New Port Richey road Monday, she noted she was one of the few in her neighborhood that seemed concerned.

"There's still a lot of stuff out here that could fly," she said.

Todd Ryan, 43, who lives with his girlfriend and two others at Floridian Mobile Home Park off Green Key Road, said he and his friends were planning to take off in their camper if things get bad. He's a musician and wants to make sure his equipment, including his nine guitars ("They're like my children," he said) are out of harm's way.

"We might go up to the Flying J (truck stop) up in San Antonio," said Ryan. "We'll just ride the storm out, play a little REO Speedwagon."

• • •

On Monday morning, Jack Weaver bought an extra bag of ice. Eileen Norton grabbed a second orange juice. Robert Hensley got a tarp and two cases of water.

Not exactly what you'd call a prestorm panic.

"I don't think it will be that bad, but you never know," said Hensley, 49, of Port Richey, who was shopping at Home Depot on Little Road.

With fickle Fay on her way, many Pasco County residents took the threat in stride, going about their routines while picking up a few emergency supplies — just in case.

Then there were shoppers like Kathy Malone, 58, who wasn't preparing at all for the storm. Malone, a retired New Port Richey teacher who shopped for groceries at the Southgate Publix on Monday, is applying wishful thinking to Fay's projections.

"We haven't had a storm in two years," she said. "I'm not buying anything special. If it happens, it happens."

Meanwhile, over in central Pasco, Leah Sharpe was one of the few making major purchases Monday morning. The 53-year-old Land O'Lakes resident was loading her Ford van with $764.84 worth of metal storm shutters outside the Home Depot near New River.

The plywood she bought for previous storms had warped and she couldn't afford to keep replacing it.

"This was half price," she said, "and at least this way I don't have to do it again."

Times staff writers Lisa Buie, Molly Moorhead and Helen Anne Travis contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco County shelters open at 7 a.m. today

Pine View Middle, a pet-friendly shelter, 5334 Parkway Blvd. in Land O'Lakes

• Pine View Elementary, 5333 Parkway Blvd., Land O'Lakes

• Centennial Middle, 38505 Centennial Road, Dade City

• Lacoochee Elementary, 38815 Cummer Road, Dade City

• River Ridge Middle, a special-needs shelter, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey

Sandbag pickups open 6 a.m.-2 p.m. today

• Veterans Memorial Park, 14333 Hicks Road, Hudson

• Pasco Public Works building, 7536 State St., New Port Richey

• Pasco Fire Station No. 17, 2951 Seven Springs Blvd., Holiday

• Pasco Fire Station No. 22, 9930 Land O'Lakes Blvd., Land O'Lakes

• John S. Burks Memorial Park, 13220 Gene Nelson Blvd., Dade City

• Zephyrhills Fire Department, 6907 Dairy Road, Zephyrhills

Other fast facts

• Court hearings canceled: Anyone who is scheduled to appear for court proceeding today should not report. Residents of both Pasco and Pinellas counties who had been summoned for jury duty today have been excused and told not report. Court is scheduled to resume on Wednesday.

• The Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic on Little Road will close early this afternoon. Patients will be contacted by the VA to reschedule. They may also call, toll-free, 1-877-741-3400 for information on facility closures, appointment cancellations and status of facilities once the storm threat has passed.

• Meetings tonight: The School Board meeting has been canceled. New Port Richey's City Council meeting is expected to run as scheduled. Port Richey's Port Authority meeting is up in the air.

• Sheriff's employees: Nonessential civilians do not need to report to work today.

• No early voting: Elections offices are closed today.

Residents brace as storm threatens Pasco 08/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 8:12am]

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