Pinellas County officials on Tuesday urged residents to get their storm preparations in order.
Those who are in low-lying, flood-prone areas should stay with friends or relatives, in a hotel or, as a last resort, at one of the county’s two open shelters, County Administrator Barry Burton said at a news conference.
Officials stressed that evacuation isn’t mandatory but is highly recommended for those areas, noting that emergency officials are unable to respond when wind speeds exceed 40 mph. Everyone else should get ready to shelter in place.
“The storms tonight will be significant,” Burton said.
Tropical storm-force winds are expected to begin about 8 p.m., and gusts could hit up to 70 mph, said Cathie Perkins, the county’s emergency management director. Storm surge could reach 3 to 5 feet. Power outages are possible.
County officials will especially be keeping an eye on these low-lying or coastal areas, Perkins said: Tarpon Springs sponge docks, Riviera Bay area, Shore Acres in St. Petersburg, downtown Gulfport, Crystal Beach, Tarpon Woods, Oldsmar, Baypoint and John’s Pass Village, as well as the Caladesi, Sherwood Forest, Mariners Cove and Twin City mobile home parks.
Pinellas deputies will also limit access to the beaches between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. Only those who live, stay or work on the beach will be allowed in.
Deputies will have boats ready to carry out water rescues and are prepared to direct traffic in case of stoplight outages. Those who are rescued will be taken to one of three reunification points where they can get in touch with family and friends, the sheriff said.
Tuesday’s announcements did bring a glimmer of positive news: unlike Tropical Storm Eta last fall, Elsa will pass by during lower tides. Still, officials said to take the storm seriously.
”This is not the biggest storm we’ve seen,” Gualtieri said, “but it’s also not an insignificant event.”
Shelters are located at Lealman Exchange at 5175 45th St N, St. Petersburg, and the Ross Norton Recreation Center at 1426 S Martin Luther King Jr Ave, Clearwater.
The Lealman Exchange site can accommodate special-needs residents. Both shelters can accommodate pets. Pet owners should bring supplies and keep their pets in carriers.
Residents who need help, such as transportation to shelters, can call the Citizen Information Center at 727-464-4333.
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2021 Tampa Bay Times hurricane guide
IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
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NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter