Hernando emergency officials are calling for the mandatory evacuation of all the county's estimated 10,000 mobile home residents and are recommending that another 2,300 residents west of U.S. 19 evacuate as well because of Hurricane Jeanne.
People included in the recommended evacuation are those who live who in Zones A and B. Both evacuation notices were effective at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The storm is expected to make landfall in southeastern Florida at 9 a.m. and continue on a northwestern track, with the eye hitting just east of the county this afternoon. Residents were expected to start feeling tropical storm force winds up to 74 mph starting at midnight.
The winds will continue to build and hurricane-force winds are expected to be felt after 9 a.m.
National Weather Service officials are predicting that a 3- to 6-foot storm surge could hit the North Suncoast this afternoon. At least 6 inches of rain are expected, which is causing flooding concerns for coastal and low-lying areas.
Shelters have been set up at Nature Coast Technical High School, Moton Elementary School, Hernando High School and West Hernando Middle School. Chocachatti Elementary School is on stand-by status for possible use.
No decision had been made as of noon Saturday on whether schools will be open on Monday. Schools were forced to close on several occasions because campuses were being used as shelters for hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan.
Residents seeking sandbags may pick them up at Hernando Beach Fire, Spring Hill Fire Station No. 2, Ridge Manor Community Center and the Brooksville Fire Department.
Emergency food supplies are available at the New Beginning Life Center, the Salvation Army and the Masaryktown sheriff's substation.
"(Emergency management officials) are trying to do everything possible to keep the people in Hernando County safe during this storm," said Brenda Frazier, community relations coordinator. "We wish we didn't have to evacuate again, but we need to make sure people are going to be safe."
Officials made the decision after an 11 a.m. conference call that assessed the possible track of the fourth hurricane to hit Florida since mid August.
But some residents didn't want to wait for the evacuation order and began driving out of the county on Saturday morning. Others began stocking up on supplies and boarding up windows.
Gas stations had a steady stream of customers filling up throughout the morning, but emergency management officials did not report any gas shortages as of 1 p.m.
Jon Merk, 42, of Hernando Beach said he wanted to get a jump on the stream of people who would be leaving the area as he filled up with gas at a 7-Eleven on State Road 50.
With bags packed in his backseat and a copy of The Da Vinci Code in his CD player, he said he plans to head north to Knoxville, Tenn.
"This is just getting ridiculous, I can't believe we are dealing with yet another in Florida," Merk said. "We haven't even finished dealing with the last ones."
James Gray, 56, of Spring Hill said he plans to ride out the storm, but he's going to be a bit weary about taking down the boards he has in place over his windows. And, if he does, this time they are all going to be numbered so they easily can be put back into place.
Gray had all but his two back windows ready to go by Saturday morning, and spent $60 at Home Depot to finish the job.
"I'm just doing what I gotta do," he said. "I just never imagined I'd get this efficient in putting up boards. I never thought I'd need to do it this much."
Joe Black can be reached at (352) 754-6117 or jblacksptimes.com.
EMERGENCY PHONE NUMBERS
HERNANDO COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PUBLIC INFORMATION CENTER: 754-4083 or visit the Hernando County Emergency Management Web site at www.co.hernando.fl.us/em. For recorded updates by phone, call 754-4111.
RED CROSS HERNANDO CHAPTER: 799-3237
SHERIFF'S OFFICE: 754-6830
FIRE RESCUE DISPATCH: 688-5045
FEMA DISASTER ASSISTANCE TELEREGISTRATION: 1-800-462-9029
Tune to cable Channel 19 for live updates from the Emergency Operations Center and other useful information on evacuation and shelters. Do not call 911 for hurricane information. The 911 line is reserved for life-threatening emergencies only.
Hernando County emergency management officials have announced the recommended evacuations of Zones A and B (west of U.S. 19, except GlenLakes, Regency Oaks, the Heather, the Waters and River Country. A mandatory evacuation order is being given for all mobile home and RV residents. The voluntary and mandatory evacuations became effective 2 p.m. Saturday.
Level A / B Evacuate purple areas and all manufactured home residents
Level C Evacuate purple and blue areas and all manufactured home residents
Level D / E Evacuate purple, blue and yellow areas and all manufactured home residents
The following shelters will be open. Nature Coast Technical High School, Moton Elementary, Hernando High, West Hernando Middle (special needs shelter) and Chocachatti Elementary on a standby basis.
1 Nature Coast Technical High
4057 California St., Brooksville
2 Chocachatti Elementary
4135 California St., Brooksville
3 Moton Elementary
7175 Emerson Road, Brooksville
4 Hernando High
700 Bell Avenue, Brooksville
5 West Hernando Middle
14075 Ken Austin Pkwy., Brooksville
Source: Creative Force Inc., Hernando County