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St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch: “This is not the time to let down our guard.”

Welch said President Joe Biden and FEMA “are ready to support relief efforts in any way we deem necessary.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is encouraging residents not to let their guard down as Hurricane Ian forecast path shifted on Tuesday.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is encouraging residents not to let their guard down as Hurricane Ian forecast path shifted on Tuesday. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Sep. 27|Updated Sep. 28

ST. PETERSBURG — Though Hurricane Ian’s projected path now tracks further south, Mayor Ken Welch said the federal and state government are prepositioning supplies to deal with the storm’s aftermath.

“I think we’ll be in pretty good shape,” Welch said at the city’s emergency operations center at the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Welch recounted his phone call earlier Tuesday with President Joe Biden and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell. He said Gov. Ron DeSantis also reached out, as did Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg.

“They assured me that the administration and FEMA are monitoring this storm around the clock, and are ready to support relief efforts in any way we deem necessary,” Welch said of his call with the White House. “I relayed to them my gratitude and reminded them of the strength and resilience of St. Petersburg’s community and assured them we have some of the finest employees and first responders in the nation, and they are ready to work alongside federal, regional, state and other partners after the storm.”

He also said he and Biden spoke about the federal infrastructure bill, which could enhance the city’s water and sewer system and that the city is already spending millions of dollars on to expand and modernize.

“No one’s infrastructure is built to handle the kind of water we may have faced had that storm stayed on its track,” Welch said. “That money remains vital. I don’t think any system in Florida would be able to handle that kind of water. So that infrastructure bill money is very important.”

Welch stressed that St. Petersburg remains in the cone of uncertainty, and there is potential for extended rain, major flooding, winds upwards of 100 mph, tornadoes and storm surge. The city has asked residents to limit their water use to avoid overwhelming water and sewage systems.

“This is not the time to let down our guard,” he said. “Do not focus on the center track. This still is a huge storm that can still bring damaging weather to our city.”

City Emergency Manager Amber Boulding said the National Weather Service forecasts a storm surge of 5 to 8 feet in Tampa Bay Wednesday night. Predicted rainfall of up to 24 inches “can be catastrophic in some areas,” she said.

“If you live in those low lying areas in St. Pete, you know what 5 to 8 feet can do,” she said. “That’s going to push a lot of water into our roads, into our homes.”

Boulder said that the city makes requests for assistance first through Pinellas County to see if it can fill that need first, before seeking help from the state or federal government. There are contracts in place for debris management, but other requests, such as for additional boats for search and rescue, may be called in if the storm causes flooding.

According to Pinellas County, there are 442,259 residents living in zones under mandatory evacuation. Mayor Welch did not know how many city residents have been mandated to evacuate.

As for residents who have evacuated to shelters, “It’s lower than you would expect,” Boulder said.

There are 1,888 “emergency critical” city employees who must work through the storm, and 836 “emergency essential” employees who must be available to work immediately after the storm when it is safe.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

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