Pinellas officials urge evacuation ahead of Ian: ‘Get out right now’

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch: ‘This could be the storm that we’ve hoped would never come.’
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was direct in offering advice to residents in the face of Hurricane Ian: "Get out right now."
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was direct in offering advice to residents in the face of Hurricane Ian: "Get out right now." [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Sept. 26, 2022|Updated Sept. 26, 2022

Pinellas County residents who live in areas most at risk to flooding, or in manufactured or mobile homes, need to seek higher ground and more secure shelter as of 6 p.m. Monday, when a mandatory evacuation order is set to take effect.

The order affects those who live in evacuation zone A or mobile homes. Those in evacuation zones B and C will be under an evacuation order effective at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Those zones combined constitute essentially all of coastal Pinellas County, including most or all of the beach towns and cities, as well as Safety Harbor, Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs. Residents can find their zones online here.

Earlier Monday, even before the evacuation orders, county officials urged residents who lived in those areas, as well as those who planned to leave the county and tourists, to leave immediately. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri put his directive in no uncertain terms:

“For all practical purposes, get out right now.”

Pinellas will face high winds and life-threatening storm surge, officials said. County emergency management director Cathie Perkins said the county could see 10 to 15 inches of rain. The county expects storm surge of 6 to 10 feet, and maybe as much as 15 feet in some places.

Some long-term care facilities and hospitals had already begun evacuating residents and patients earlier Monday, Perkins said.

Three public shelters — at Lealman Exchange Community Center, Ross Norton Recreation Center and Largo High School — will open at 6 p.m. Monday, Perkins said. The Largo shelter is pet-friendly. More will open Tuesday morning. Information on shelters is available online here.

Special-needs shelters were also opening Monday. Special-needs residents who still need to request help evacuating can do so by calling (727) 464-4333 before 10 p.m. Monday or after 7 a.m. Tuesday, Perkins said.

Several hotels on Clearwater Beach began requiring guests to leave on Monday morning ahead of the mandate.

Because the area is in the slow season, the Sandpearl Resort is at about 25 percent capacity, but general manager Eric Waltz said management directed the 40 or so rooms to leave as a precaution.

Guests at Winter the Dolphin’s Beach Club and Hampton Inn & Suites Clearwater Beach also were ordered to evacuate around 8 a.m., according to owner Steve Page.

About 10 hotels on Clearwater Beach that were built with added capacity since 2001 are required to evacuate guests whenever a Hurricane Watch is issued, even when Pinellas County is not under an evacuation order. The rule was included in the development agreements as a public safety precaution in exchange for the hotels getting built with higher densities.

The logic is that by getting tourists out of the area early, there will be less congestion if residents are required to evacuate later, Clearwater Planning Director Gina Clayton told the Tampa Bay Times last year.

Officials emphasized that even the county’s most storm-hardened residents should be taking Hurricane Ian very seriously.

“This could be the storm that we’ve hoped would never come to our shores,” St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said.

Those who refuse to evacuate, even in the face of a mandatory order, may not get help if they need it, Gualtieri said.

“When we issue that mandatory evacuation, that means that if you don’t and you call for help, we’re not coming because we’re not going to put our people in harm’s way and put them in peril because you didn’t do what we told you to do,” he said.

“If you don’t do it, you’re on your own.”

Times staff writer Tracey McManus contributed to this report.

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• • •

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