TARPON SPRINGS — The city will be without a public hurricane shelter until mid August, Pinellas County officials say.
The town's lone shelter, Tarpon Springs Middle School, is undergoing an update to its air-conditioning system, which will leave the building without electricity for the summer, principal Susan Keller said.
The school can accommodate up to 1,413 evacuees.
"It's definitely concerning and we need to make sure folks are aware of their options," Tarpon Springs fire Chief Richard Butcher said.
The nearest two shelters are Brooker Creek Elementary, 3130 Forelock Road, and East Lake High School, 1300 Silver Eagle Drive, both in East Lake. They can house up to 926 and 1,557 evacuees, respectively.
The city has been running announcements on public access television to alert residents.
Pinellas County has 920,381 residents and shelter spaces for 74,000 people. However, shelters almost never reach full capacity, emergency management spokesman Tom Iovino said.
"We make as much space available as possible, but we always advise people to have something else lined up. Public shelters should be your last option," Iovino said.
The county designates evacuation zones based on expected storm surge heights. Residents can check their zone at pinellas county.org/emergency/know yourzone.ht.
"Run from the water and hide from the wind, that's our motto," Iovino said.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through November, but doesn't normally reach peak activity until September, according to the National Weather Service.
The county primarily contracts with school districts for shelter space because they provide sturdy, large-capacity structures that meet hurricane codes, Iovino said.
All but three of Pinellas County's 34 public hurricane shelters are in school buildings.
But in case of evacuation, Butcher agreed that it's best to seek other options, if possible.
"Go find someplace safe and comfortable. The last thing you want to do is be in a sleeping bag on a gym floor," he said.
Matt McKinney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4156.