A few hundred thousand sandbags went fast in Pasco County as residents rushed to fortify their homes against Hurricane Ian.
By Tuesday morning, Pasco County’s Department of Emergency Management said it had already distributed more than 260,000 sandbags — a record high for the county.
At a midday news conference, Emergency Management Director Andrew Fossa said the county ran out of sandbags briefly due to the demand before Hillsborough County provided 125,000 more.
Then, by 1:45 p.m., those were gone, too.
Sandbag sites will remain open until the sand runs out, but residents must bring their own bags. The locations of the sites can be found online at mypasco.net along with information on evacuation zones and shelter locations.
The county’s customer service line will also be manned 24 hours a day throughout the storm at 727-847-2411. Ten shelter sites are also in operation, five of which are pet-friendly.
”Even in the height of the storm, the county will never turn anyone away from a shelter,” Fossa said.
Elderly residents and those without transportation can call the county’s hotline for a free ride to a nearby shelter location.
Fossa, County Administrator Mike Carballa and other officials made another plea to those living in evacuation zones A, B and C to heed their warnings to relocate. Evacuation orders for zone A are mandatory, but deputies won’t have time to go door to door forcing people to relocate, Sheriff Chris Nocco said.
”I still see a lot of complacency out there,” Carballa said. “I pray that it changes course and that it doesn’t affect us, but we have to plan as if it will. And if you think that 14 to 17 feet of water doesn’t translate into something significant, that’s a mistake.”
The latest projections from the National Weather Service showed Ian tracking to the south of Pasco, but meteorologists still expect a significant storm surge and at least 20 inches of rain over the next 60 hours.
Multiple rivers throughout Pasco are already in “action stage” with waters surging over their banks, and residents should do what they can to stay off the roads by Wednesday morning as Ian’s outer bands begin to whip through the county, Fossa said.
By midafternoon, the hurricane is projected to send tropical storm-force winds at a sustained speed of 39 mph throughout Pasco, and those winds will only intensify throughout the evening, according to Fossa.
Search and rescue teams, the county’s swift-water response team and “chainsaw teams” tasked with clearing roadways are all “ready to roll,” Nocco said.
But even first responders have their limitations.
Once wind speeds hit 50 mph, first responders will be forced to shut down operations for their own safety, Fire Rescue Chief Scott Cassin said. Residents should remember that some fire stations, particularly on the west side of the county, are located in evacuation zones, too. That means delayed response time to 911 calls should be expected.
Nocco stressed that evacuees should tell their loved ones where they are going or post their location to social media. After the storm passes, when the power goes out and cellphone signals are lost, 911 centers will be flooded with phone calls from those looking for loved ones, he said.
”Please don’t put law enforcement officers or fire rescue into a bad situation, trying to look for people who are already safe,” Nocco said.
”You’re not alone,” he said. “We’re all in this together, so please recognize that and be kind and be patient. Anger isn’t going to change the situation we’re in, all it’s going to do is make it worse.”
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2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT THE HURRICANE: A school mental health expert says to let them know what’s happening, keep a routine and stay calm.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN A SHELTER: What to bring — and not bring — plus information on pets, keeping it civil and more.
SAFEGUARD YOUR HOME: Storms and property damage go hand in hand. Here’s how to prepare.
IT'S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.
RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here's how to get ready.
DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits
PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.
SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.
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Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change
PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.
PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don't understand the risk.
PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?
INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.