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Monday live updates: Tropical Storm Idalia to become major hurricane ‘at any time’

Tampa Bay area cities are asking residents to prepare with parts of the Tampa Bay region in the storm’s forecast cone.
 
From left: Jarod Jones, Sedrick Spencer, Arthur Hopson, Rodney Washington and Steve Young assist with sandbag distribution at MacFarlane Park in Tampa on Monday in preparation for Tropical Storm Idalia.
From left: Jarod Jones, Sedrick Spencer, Arthur Hopson, Rodney Washington and Steve Young assist with sandbag distribution at MacFarlane Park in Tampa on Monday in preparation for Tropical Storm Idalia. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 28, 2023|Updated Aug. 29, 2023

As Tropical Storm Idalia heads toward Florida, forecasters expect the storm will develop into a hurricane Monday night or early Tuesday, and could eventually be a Category 3, bringing several feet of storm surge to the Tampa Bay area.

Much of the west coast of Florida and Tampa Bay area is under a hurricane warning. Tampa Bay is also under a storm surge warning. The risk continues for life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds along portions of Florida’s west coast and the Panhandle on Tuesday.

“This is going to be a powerful hurricane, and this is absolutely going to impact the state of Florida in many, many ways,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday during a briefing at the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center.

Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee counties have issued mandatory evacuation orders for some areas and voluntary evacuations for other zones. Local governments have opened sandbag sites to the public, and shelters on all sides of the bay are opening up.

Here’s the latest:

11:30 p.m.: Idalia verging on hurricane status

In its 11 p.m. advisory on Tropical Storm Idalia, the National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Idalia could become a hurricane “at any time.”

“Idalia could become a hurricane at any time, and is forecast to become a major hurricane by late Tuesday or Tuesday night,” the forecast stated.

Read more here.

9:20 p.m.: Across Pinellas beaches, uncertainty

Gulfport resident Raul Guasp, center, fills a sandbag in preparation for Idalia at the 49th Street Neighborhood Center in Gulfport on Monday.
Gulfport resident Raul Guasp, center, fills a sandbag in preparation for Idalia at the 49th Street Neighborhood Center in Gulfport on Monday. [ LANE DEGREGORY | Times ]

Elizabeth Robson was manning Paradiso boutique in Pass-a-Grille about 1 p.m. when someone started screwing plastic window shields onto the shop across the street. Her store had sandbags beside the beach umbrellas out front, but nothing covering the wide windows and no plan — yet — about when to close.

“I’m nervous,” said Robson, thinking of Hurricane Ian. “With climate change, everything is just getting worse. It’s real.”

She hadn’t decided whether to leave for the rapidly strengthening Idalia. Her home is in Vina Del Mar, an island just over a bridge from the beach. “I’m waiting to see what happens,” she said. “I just put the wind app on my phone.”

For more scenes from Tampa Bay’s beaches as Idalia approached, click here.

8:54 p.m.: Idalia keeps gaining strength, nears hurricane status

Tropical Storm Idalia has gained strength and is almost a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. update Monday evening. Forecasters predict the system is likely to become a hurricane later Monday and a major hurricane before it reaches Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday.

Read more here.

8:40 p.m.: State mobilizes National Guard, troopers

The state has activated 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard, with another 3,000 being activated today, according to the governor’s office.

Other state actions being taken:

  • The Florida Highway Patrol is prepared to deploy 300 troopers to emergency sites, and the Department of Health has 33 strike teams with 200 ambulances staging in Lakeland and Marianna.
  • The Florida Department of Emergency Management is readying 25 pallets of pre-prepared meals ready to eat (or MREs), more than 180 pallets of bottled water and at least 10 pallets of tarps.
  • The Florida Department of Children and Families is seeking a federal waiver for the early release of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, allowing recipients to receive assistance during the first half of September.
  • The Florida Department of Transportation has secured nearly all barges being used for the expansion of the Howard Frankland Bridge, the governor’s office said.

8:15 p.m. Hospitals evacuated, flood defenses set up

Ambulances line up to evacuate patients at HCA Pasadena Hospital on Monday in advance of Tropical Storm Idalia.
Ambulances line up to evacuate patients at HCA Pasadena Hospital on Monday in advance of Tropical Storm Idalia. [ Courtesy of Janet Keeler ]

Three Tampa Bay hospitals were evacuated and closed Monday to protect patients from possible flooding and storm surge from Idalia.

Patients at HCA Florida Trinity West Hospital in New Port Richey, HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital and HCA Florida West Tampa Hospital were transferred by ambulances to other HCA facilities.

As the region’s only Level 1 trauma center, Tampa General Hospital will be the main destination for Hillsborough County first responders transporting patients who may be injured as Idalia passes.

But the hospital, located on Davis Islands, is in evacuation zone A, an area at high risk from flooding and storm surge damage. So for the second straight year, the hospital is deploying flood defenses designed to keep the hospital operational.

On Monday, maintenance crews began assembling an “aqua fence,” a water-impermeable barrier that stretches around the hospital campus. It is designed to withstand a storm surge of up to 15 feet above sea level.

Read more here.

7:45 p.m.: State fears Citrus, Hernando landfall for Idalia

A particularly bad scenario for Idalia would be a landfall around Citrus or Hernando counties, said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management in a live video appearance Monday evening. Guthrie discussed the storm with Mike Boylan, of Mike’s Weather Page.

Such a hit could cause “a world of mess down in Pinellas and Hillsborough County,” Guthrie said.

As night approached, Guthrie said he feared he would wake up at 3 a.m. to hear forecasters warn that Idalia could get stronger still, edging from a potential Category 3 to a Category 4.

”They keep creeping this thing up,” he said.

Once the storm passes Cuba, Guthrie said, there will be nothing in its way until the Florida coast.

— Zachary T. Sampson

7:30: Tolls suspended on Gulf Coast roads

Tolls on roads along Florida’s west coast will be suspended starting at 4 a.m. Tuesday, the governor’s office announced Monday.

“Anyone who receives an evacuation order needs to make plans to go to a safe area now,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement. “You do not need to leave the state — travel tens of miles, not hundreds of miles. By waiving tolls, we are easing the burden on families in the path of this storm.”

Tolls will be suspended in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Pasco, Pinellas and Sumter counties, and portions of Orange County. Affected roads in each county include:

Hillsborough County: Veterans Expressway, Suncoast Parkway, Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, Interstate 4 connector

Pinellas County: Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Pinellas Bayway

Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties: Suncoast Parkway

Lake, Sumter and portions of Orange counties: Turnpike Mainline linking Interstate 75 to Interstate 4

7:02 p.m.: ‘King tide’ to strengthen Idalia’s storm surge

Tampa Bay will see the highest tides of the month just as Tropical Storm Idalia, which is projected to develop into a major hurricane, makes landfall.

Wednesday is expected to bring the next full moon and a “king tide,” which only comes once or twice a year, according to the National Weather Service.

That means storm surge from Idalia could reach about one or two feet higher than under normal tide conditions.

Read more here.

6:55 p.m.: Busch Gardens, Dali Museum, Columbia restaurants closing

All day, we’ve been updating this list of closures and cancellations as new news comes through. Among the latest additions:

  • Busch Gardens will close at 3 p.m. Tuesday with an anticipated reopening on Thursday.
  • The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg will be closed on Tuesday. Check its website for updates. thedali.org.
  • The Columbia Restaurant’s location at the Tampa Bay History Center is closed immediately and is expected to reopen on Thursday. Its Sand Key location in Clearwater Beach will be closed Tuesday with a reopening to be determined and its location at Tampa International Airport will close Tuesday.

Click here for the latest.

6:44 p.m.: Emergency officials predict ‘catastrophic’ storm surge

State officials are warning of “catastrophic” storm surge in parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast similar to what Southwest Florida experienced during Hurricane Ian.

Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said that some parts of the state will see 8 to 12 feet of storm surge.

For comparison, Guthrie showed reporters a video of water sweeping away a two-story building on Fort Myers Beach during Hurricane Ian last year.

“It is a classic example of what is going to happen with the storm surge across the state of Florida,” Guthrie said.

”This was approximately 10 to 12 feet of storm surge into Fort Myers Beach, and it was catastrophic damage,” he added. “We are going to see portions of the Gulf Coast that will experience 8 to 12 feet of storm surge.”

Tropical Storm Idalia is expected to form into a Category 3 storm before making landfall on Wednesday somewhere near Florida’s Big Bend region, Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

”Please prepare for that and make sure you’re making decisions that are gonna protect you and your family,” DeSantis said.

6:42 p.m.: USF-St. Petersburg evacuating students to Tampa

The University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus is evacuating three dorms to the Tampa campus, according to the USF St. Petersburg student newspaper, The Crow’s Nest. All residents must leave the campus by 8 a.m. Tuesday.

5:55 p.m.: City offices, bus systems closing

The cities of St. Petersburg, Largo, Pinellas Park and Temple Terrace are among those announcing office closures and service interruptions on Tuesday and Wednesday, as Idalia nears Florida’s Gulf Coast. Some county services will be interrupted, too. Click here for a list.

5:36 p.m.: Pinellas adds shelters opening Tuesday

Pinellas will open nine more shelters at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Two of those are special needs shelters, and three allow pets. They are:

  • Campbell Park Elementary School, 1051 Seventh Ave. S, St. Petersburg
  • Carwise Middle School, 3301 Bentley Drive, Palm Harbor
  • Dunedin Middle School, 70 Patricia Ave., Dunedin (special needs)
  • Gibbs High School, 850 34th St. S, St. Petersburg (pets)
  • Largo High School, 410 Missouri Ave., Largo (pets)
  • Lealman Innovation Academy, 4900 28th St. N, Lealman
  • New Heights Elementary School, 3901 37th St. N, St. Petersburg
  • Palm Harbor Middle School, 1800 Tampa Rd., Palm Harbor
  • Palm Harbor University High School, 1900 Omaha St., Palm Harbor (special needs and pets)

Read more about shelters around Tampa Bay here.

5:26 p.m.: Hillsborough buses free on Tuesday

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has announced all buses will be free on Tuesday. Fixed-route bus service will operate from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., with no paratransit services.

Buses will also transport riders to shelters from the following facilities:

  • Netpark Transfer Center, 5003 N 56th St., Tampa
  • Yukon Transfer Center, 401 E Yukon St., Tampa
  • Northwest Transfer Center, 8951 W Waters Ave., Tampa
  • University Area Transit Center, 1311 N 27th St., Tampa

The agency will also offer on-demand service in areas not currently served by buses. To request service, call (813) 254-4278.

5:17 p.m.: Track Idalia’s path with satellite images, more

Idalia is currently spinning between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula, about to enter the Gulf of Mexico, as it nears hurricane strength.

Want to watch satellite imagery of the storm, and get the latest updates from the National Hurricane Center? Click here.

5:05 p.m.: Idalia nears hurricane strength

The National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. advisory says Tropical Storm Idalia is expected to become a hurricane as it enters the Gulf of Mexico, and all of Tampa Bay is under a storm surge warning.

4:50: Heading to a shelter? Read these tips

Hundreds of thousands of people in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties have been ordered to evacuate low-lying and coastal areas as Tropical Storm Idalia makes its way toward Florida’s west coast. With most hotels booked, folks with nowhere else to stay could land in the shelters provided at public schools throughout the region.

Shelters don’t have beds, except for medically needy patients at special needs locations. People stay in classrooms, gyms and cafeterias, often in barracks-style living. Pets generally stay in separate sections of the shelters, in carriers or cages that you are expected to provide. You’re also expected to bring food, water and medication for your pets.

If you’re staying in a shelter, emergency management officials recommend bringing bedding, several days’ worth of clothing, special dietary items, plenty of water and more. Ear plugs are popular if you need to drown out the noise. Battery-powered fans and radios are popular to keep air circulating and news flowing.

Read more, and get a list of shelters, here.

4:38 p.m.: How construction sites are prepping for Idalia

When Hurricane Idalia makes landfall in Florida, storm surge, heavy rains and severe winds could cause devastating property damage to homes and businesses.

But how do you prepare a building to withstand the elements when it’s still under construction?

In the most severe storms, some projects could be totally destroyed. But larger developments are almost always covered by builder’s risk insurance.

“This is part of the business, especially in Florida and especially this time of year,” said Bowen Arnold, principal of DDA Development, whose local projects include The Nolen in St. Petersburg and Casa Marti in Ybor City.

Read more here.

4:16 p.m.: Pinellas-Pasco court, public defender’s office to close

The Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Pinellas and Pasco counties will close Tuesday and Wednesday, according to court spokesperson Stephen Thompson.

Also, Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Sara Mollo said Monday afternoon that her offices will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday due to Hurricane Idalia.

In Pinellas County, first appearances in court will be held at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the County Justice Center, 14250 49th St. N, Clearwater. In Pasco, first appearances will be held at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center, 38053 Live Oak Ave., Dade City. There will be no first appearances Wednesday, and then the office will return to normal hours Thursday.

4:10 p.m.: DeSantis: Storm may shift away from Tampa Bay

DeSantis, at a Monday afternoon news conference in Levy County, said the state believes the 5 p.m. National Hurricane Center advisory could show Idalia shifting slightly west, which would make it more likely to impact the northern part of Florida, DeSantis said.

Still, he warned that people even outside of the forecast cone should brace for weather and be prepared to see impacts from Idalia.

3:55 p.m.: Hayes: This isn’t fun. But you have to prepare.

With closures and evacuations pouring in as Tampa Bay prepares for the shock of a possible major hurricane in the region early Wednesday, columnist Stephanie Hayes writes that, yes, this all-too-familiar routine is dispiriting, if not defeating.

But you can’t let that stop you from preparing. She writes:

“Admitting when things are stressful and scary and uncertain — without necessarily having a solution at hand — is crucial for getting through those things. Puppylike positivity, naivete or ignorance tends to manifest as someone who boogie boards in hurricane winds for TikTok and has a survival kit of only Busch Lights.

“Fear gets a bad rap, is the point here, and I just think people with a slightly furrowed brow make the best choices. Fear helps keep us alive; it’s part of our complete evolutionary pamphlet in the mental glove box.

“So, no, don’t panic, but treat this threat with the respect it demands.”

Read more here.

3:40 p.m.: What to do if you got contaminated Citgo gas

After contaminated gas from Port Tampa Bay was sent to more than two dozen gas stations along the Gulf Coast over the weekend, Citgo said customers who believe they may have been affected should file claims.

Customers who pumped gas at one of the affected stations after 10 a.m. Saturday may be eligible for a claim. Click here for a list of potentially impacted stations.

Go here to file a claim under the “triclean gasoline quality guaranteed” dropdown option. Read more here.

3:00 pm: Another airport closing

Another airport announced it will close on Tuesday. St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport will cease flights at 3 p.m., the airport said. It plans to reopen Wednesday at 3 p.m. Pinellas County issued a mandatory evacuation order for Zone A, where the airport is located. All travelers should check with airlines for flight delays and cancellations. Tampa International Airport announced earlier today that it would cease all commercial flights at midnight. More details here.

2:45 pm: DeSantis expects ‘significant impact’ from surge

Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a press briefing at Pinellas County Emergency Management, in preparation for Tropical Storm Idalia, soon expected to become a major hurricane to make landfall along the Florida Gulf Coast, Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 in Largo.
Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a press briefing at Pinellas County Emergency Management, in preparation for Tropical Storm Idalia, soon expected to become a major hurricane to make landfall along the Florida Gulf Coast, Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 in Largo. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called for residents along Florida’s Gulf Coast to be ready. Even areas outside the storm’s likely path could experience catastrophic damage, DeSantis said during a news conference at Pinellas County’s emergency operations center. Residents need to heed evacuation orders where they’re issued, he said, including in Pinellas County, where 338,000 people have been told to evacuate. ”Even if the storm is off the coast here in the Tampa Bay area, you’re still going to see significant impact from the surge,” he said.

2:38 p.m.: USF canceling classes

In addition, Florida State University announced that its campus would close on Wednesday due to the storm.

2:20 pm: Power companies prep for outages

Utility workers across the Tampa Bay area are preparing to respond to power outages. Duke Energy Florida, which supplies power to most areas of Pinellas and Pasco counties, mobilized about 4,500 power line technicians, vegetation workers, damage assessors and support personnel Monday to respond to outages. Tampa Electric Co., which services Hillsborough and portions of Pasco County, was bringing in more than 1,000 workers and supplies from other states and staging them outside the storm’s path. Read more here.

2:15 pm: Little change in latest Idalia forecast track

Tropical Storm Idalia is about 50 miles south of the western tip of Cuba, according to a 2 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, showing a track quite similar to the previous forecast. In the afternoon update, forecasters said the storm’s maximum wind speeds were 70 mph, and extended up to 140 miles. Idalia is likely to pass over or near western Cuba on Monday night, then over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday before reaching Florida’s gulf coast on Wednesday as a major hurricane.

Tropical Storm Idalia is likely to reach Florida's Gulf coast on Wednesday as a major hurricane, according to a Monday update from the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical Storm Idalia is likely to reach Florida's Gulf coast on Wednesday as a major hurricane, according to a Monday update from the National Hurricane Center. [ The National Hurricane Center ]

Hurricane Center forecasters noted that, “it cannot be emphasized enough that only a small deviation in the track could cause a significant change in Idalia’s landfall location in Florida due to the paralleling track to the west coast of the state.” Read more here.

2:05 p.m. Pass-a-Grille quiet before the storm

Biscuit Shannon, a bartender, stands inside Shadracks bar in Pass-a-Grille on Aug. 28, 2023. Shannon said she had no plans to evacuate before Idalia.
Biscuit Shannon, a bartender, stands inside Shadracks bar in Pass-a-Grille on Aug. 28, 2023. Shannon said she had no plans to evacuate before Idalia. [ LANE DEGREGORY | Times ]

At Shadracks bar on Pass-a-Grille, about a dozen regulars were drinking draft beers, wondering if the storm would turn. Some had never been in a hurricane. One planned to throw a party, another to escape to Melbourne. Biscuit Shannon, 51, who has tended bar there for 25 years said, “I could care less about this storm. Doesn’t phase me at all.” She has lived in Florida all her life and lives in a block house in Pinellas Park. “I never evacuate,” she said. “I open my doors, blow up the air mattresses, fill the empty vodka bottles with water and have everyone ride it out here.”

From Pass-a-Grille to St. Pete Beach, hotel parking lots were virtually empty. Most have vacancy signs out on the marquees. Workers stacked chairs on balconies. Workers at shops boarded up windows and piled sandbags around doors.

“This has been a slow start, a slacker storm, so people just aren’t moving as fast yet,” said Michael Metzler, 57, who owns Paradiso boutique in Pass-a-Grille. They’d only had four customers, slow even for a Monday. He was worried about the storm, but was waiting to decide whether to stay, or head to Key West for a vacation. — Lane DeGregory

2:00 pm: Mandatory evacuations in Hillsborough

Hillsborough County ordered residents in coastal areas and people living in mobile and manufactured homes to evacuate Monday. That could mean as many as 300,000 residents evacuating their homes beginning at 2 p.m. today. The county plans to open two shelters at 2 p.m. and eight more at 4 p.m. today.

Mandatory evacuations are issued when the probability of storm surge is high and loss of life could occur if residents don’t leave. It is illegal to stay in a home under a mandatory evacuation order. Refusal to follow an evacuation order is a second-degree misdemeanor under state law. Read more on evacuations here.

Meanwhile, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor signed an executive order granting emergency powers for a seven-day period and declaring a local state of emergency ahead of Idalia. More on that here.

Tropical Storm Idalia Update

Tropical Storm Idalia Update 2pm Public Safety Operations Center

Posted by Hillsborough County, Florida Government on Monday, August 28, 2023

1:44 pm: Bucs cancel reception

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers canceled their Cannon Fire & Cocktails reception set for Tuesday at Armature Works. “With the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County declaring states of emergencies, we believe it is critical to allow time for you and your employees, and our staff at the Tampa Bay Chamber to prepare for the storm,” Bob Rohrlack, CEO of the Tampa Chamber, which sponsors the event, wrote in a statement.

1:34 pm: Buses will stop running in Pinellas

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority plans to suspend all transit services on Tuesday at 5 p.m. until further notice. Buses could stop running sooner if there are sustained winds of 40 mph. The suspension includes all PSTA routes, including PSTA Access, the Jolley Trolley and Looper. All routes will be free on Tuesday to assist in evacuations. The agency said it is working with Pinellas County Emergency Management to provide free bus transportation to designated shelters.

1:14 pm: Evacuations ordered in Pinellas, Manatee counties

Pinellas County officials have issued their first evacuation orders ahead of Idalia, the tropical storm expected to hit the state as a powerful hurricane later this week. County officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for those living in evacuation Zone A and for all mobile home residents. That’s approximately 338,000 people under evacuation orders, according to Pinellas emergency management officials. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has suspended bus fares for those affected by the evacuation orders.

Manatee County also announced a Zone A mandatory evacuation and a Zone B voluntary evacuation.

Read more on evacuations here.

12:48 pm: College students packing shortly after arriving

As Eckerd College in St. Petersburg evacuated, Mae Dostie, a first-year marine biology student, checked her phone nervously waiting for a family friend to collect her and two suitcases of clothing and books. Like roughly 80% of Eckerd students, Dotsie is from out-of-state. The native of Maine said she’s more used to blizzards than hurricanes, but her biggest concern was whether she would have time on the car ride to Orlando to study for her first college exams.

Sean Connolly, one of around 600 freshman who arrived on campus at the private, liberal arts college less than two weeks earlier, packed the belongings from his dorm room into black garbage bags. Connelly is from Arizona but has family friends in St. Petersburg who he said assured him that the storm wouldn’t be that bad. “I’m having a great time, loving it,” he said.

Alexis Lariviere, 20, who transferred to Eckerd College from a school in New York, exits a dorm as friends cheer during evacuations ahead of Tropical Storm Idalia. Lariviere was headed to Cape Coral.
Alexis Lariviere, 20, who transferred to Eckerd College from a school in New York, exits a dorm as friends cheer during evacuations ahead of Tropical Storm Idalia. Lariviere was headed to Cape Coral. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

“College students have a different relationship to storms than residents with something to protect,” said Eckerd spokesperson Robbyn Hopewell.

A student carries bags at Eckerd College, where students are being evacuated in preparation of Tropical Storm Idalia, Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 in St. Petersburg.
A student carries bags at Eckerd College, where students are being evacuated in preparation of Tropical Storm Idalia, Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Giddy with nervous energy, students gathered outside their dorms saying goodbye. A freshman emerged with and hammer and a coconut he’d found on the beach days before. “It’s good luck if we crack it!” one shouted as the new friends gathered around. Connolly brought down the hammer. The coconut did not break. — Ian Hodgson

12:46 pm: Filling sandbags and staying put

Gulfport resident Raul Guasp, center, fills a sandbag in preparation for Idalia at the 49th Street Neighborhood Center in Gulfport on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023.
Gulfport resident Raul Guasp, center, fills a sandbag in preparation for Idalia at the 49th Street Neighborhood Center in Gulfport on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. [ LANE DEGREGORY | Times ]

In Gulfport, people have filled more than 5,000 sandbags since Sunday at the 49th Street Neighborhood Center at 1617 49th St. S. Each resident got 10 bags to fill and take. About 20 people were at the center at noon Monday. “We’re just trying to prepare, get ready what we can,” said Raul Guasp, 68, who was there with his wife. The Gulfport residents live near the water and evacuated to Lakeland for Hurricane Ian last year. “It wasn’t worth it,” he said. “This time we’re staying” — Lane DeGregory

If you need free sandbags in Hillsborough, Pinellas or Pasco counties, see this list of sandbag locations.

12:27 pm: Pinellas schools closing, becoming shelters

Pinellas County Emergency Management has activated shelters in preparation for Idalia, meaning all Pinellas County schools will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Sports and other school activities are canceled as well. For information on shelters visit storm.pinellascounty.org or call the County Information Center at (727) 464-4333.

12:23 pm: Gov. DeSantis in Pinellas for storm update

Gov. Ron DeSantis will address the media at 1:45 p.m. at the Pinellas County Emergency Management Operations Center in Largo for an update on Tropical Storm Idalia. The governor said earlier today he is leaving the campaign trail to steer Florida through the disaster. Check tampabay.com for updates on the governor’s remarks.

12:14 pm: SWFWMD campgrounds and trails closing

The Southwest Florida Water Management District will close all 69 of its campgrounds and properties, including trails and day-use areas, in the 16-county region at 3 p.m. today. The district is also canceling all camping reservations through Friday, Sept. 1. More Information is atI WaterMatters.org.

12:01 pm: Tampa International stopping flights at midnight

Tampa International Airport will stop all commercial flights at midnight, ahead of the storm. Some private and cargo flights may continue after midnight, but all air traffic will cease at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, airport officials stated. The airport will close to visitors and is not a suitable shelter, airport officials said. More details here.

11:55 am: DeSantis leaves presidential campaign trail

Before Tropical Storm Idalia locked Florida’s eastern coast in its crosshairs, state residents were more likely to catch Gov. Ron DeSantis on TV shaking hands in Iowa as part of his presidential campaign than they were to see him in Florida. Now, as Idalia is expected to become a powerful hurricane, DeSantis said he is leaving the campaign trail to steer his state through the disaster.

His campaign canceled several of DeSantis’ scheduled appearances in South Carolina Monday. But Sunday evening, DeSantis’ campaign texted out a promotion for a Thursday tele-town hall for donors. It’s unclear whether that event will continue as planned.

Read more here.

11:30 a.m.

St. Petersburg declares a state of emergency

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency.

Hillsborough courts to close, no jury duty

Hillsborough courts will close Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of the storm.

11:15 a.m.

Demand for groceries, supplies surges

Demand for hurricane supplies will be high today. Prepare for shelves to empty out fast, grocers said.

Winn-Dixie, Fresco y Más and Harveys Supermarket is seeing a jump in customers looking for storm essentials, Southeastern Grocers director of communications Meredith Hurley said in an email statement. Last year, before Hurricane Ian, many grocers in the Tampa Bay area including Publix and Walmart saw empty shelves of water and canned goods two days ahead of the storm.

Currently, Florida has a hurricane supply tax break on essentials running until Sept. 8.

”As expected, staples items such as bottled water, batteries, non-perishable food, cleaning supplies, paper and plastic products are selling quickly,” Hurley stated.

As with most grocery store storm policies, Winn-Dixie stores will stay open as long as possible for customers to get essentials and also give time for employees to get home safely, Hurley said.

11 a.m.

Tampa Bay area placed under hurricane watch

In an 11 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, forecasters placed the Tampa Bay area under a hurricane warning and a storm surge warning. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning areas and is typically issued about 36 hours before the first anticipated tropical storm force winds.

Division of Emergency Management anticipates Category 4 hurricane

Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie told reporters the storm is expected to develop into a Category 4 hurricane, urging Floridians to prepare.

“I’m anticipating it is going to be a Cat 4 and we are preparing as such,” Guthrie said, noting that the state will have “more than enough resources” to respond with the help of the Florida National Guard, state and out-of-state search and rescue teams, linemen, helicopters and boats.

Read more here.

Tampa mayor urges city residents to prepare

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and other city officials urged residents on Monday to get ready for Idalia’s impacts.

“Yesterday was the time to prepare,” Castor said at a news conference.

She said the city is working closely with state and county officials to prepare for the storm.

Castor also asked people to check in on neighbors and community members.

“We look out for each other, here in the city of Tampa and in the Tampa Bay region,” Castor said.

“Plan for the worst,” said Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Barbara Tripp.

Tripp urged residents to clear any clogged drains, tidy debris around their property and take advantage of the hurricane tax breaks.

“If you’re in the cone, you’re in the zone,” Tripp said.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks at a news conference in downtown Tampa on Monday. Castor and other city officials urged residents to finish up preparations ahead of Idalia's arrival.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks at a news conference in downtown Tampa on Monday. Castor and other city officials urged residents to finish up preparations ahead of Idalia's arrival. [ OLIVIA GEORGE | Times ]

10:50 a.m.

Pinellas declares state of emergency

Pinellas County officials declared a state of emergency Monday morning. Pinellas has not yet declared any evacuation orders, but is telling residents to prepare just in case.

“We’re telling people, now is the time to get set,” County Administrator Barry Burton said. “They need to be making sure they’re finalizing everything in their kit. We need to make sure people know what (evacuation) zone they’re in.”

10:45 a.m.

Hillsborough schools to close

Hillsborough County Public Schools announced that it will close all schools Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as cancel extracurriculars both days.

10:15 a.m.

Nursing homes prepare

Florida nursing homes began preparing for the storm on Saturday, when the governor called a state of emergency, said Kristen Knapp, a spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents the majority of nursing homes statewide.

A 2018 law, passed after 12 nursing home residents died amid Hurricane Irma when their facility lost power, requires that nursing homes and assisted living facilities have an emergency plan and generator power available.

Knapp said when that state of emergency was called, nursing homes began getting their generator fuel on site. Law requires that the facilities have a minimum of 96 hours worth of fuel, Knapp said.

”At this point, my understanding is all the nursing homes have their generators in place,” Knapp said.

When it comes to evacuations, Knapp said they’re “waiting and watching,” and that the order typically comes from local emergency management. She said it’s easier on residents if they can shelter in place, but that there are typically some facilities that always evacuate in the case of a hurricane, like those on barrier islands.

According to the Agency for Health Care Administration’s generator status report, 100% of Florida nursing homes were in full compliance with emergency management requirements, including having a generator available.

While being listed as in full compliance, about two dozen assisted living facilities were listed as having some generator deficiency, according to the status report. The majority of them are on the east coast of Florida. There is one Tampa area facility, Lizandra Assisted Living Facility, listed as having a deficiency.

The agency did not immediately return a request for comment about what those deficiencies are and the status of the nursing homes in the storm’s path.

9:45 a.m.

Pasco County announces evacuations, shelters

Pasco County has issued a mandatory evacuation for residents living in Evacuation Zone A, as well as those in manufactured homes, mobile homes and RVs or living in low lying areas or structures that have previously flooded during heavy rains.

The mandatory evacuations will go into effect around 3 p.m., Pasco County spokesperson Jeremy Sidlauskas said.

The county is also encouraging a voluntary evacuation for residents in Zones B and C, as well as those who are registered as a Special Needs Resident with the county and people who would be vulnerable in the instance of a power outage.

Residents can find their evacuation zones here.

Additionally, Pasco County expects to open five schools as shelters ahead of the storm Tuesday: Fivay High, Centennial Middle, Sunlake High, River Ridge High and Wiregrass Ranch High for special needs residents.

9 a.m.: DeSantis urges residents to prepare

During a Monday morning press conference, DeSantis strongly encouraged Floridians to prepare for the storm and make a plan for their families. He said counties along the Gulf Coast will receive evacuation orders, likely from Pinellas or even Manatee counties through the Big Bend region.

“This is going to be a powerful hurricane and this is absolutely going to impact the state of Florida in many many ways,” DeSantis said.

Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie advised Floridians across the state to monitor the storm, saying even those outside of the strike zone could face other issues, such as flooding or tornadoes.

“If you are anywhere north of Tampa Bay to Apalachicola you will be impacted,” Guthrie said.

8 a.m.: Idalia forecast to be major storm upon landfall

Tropical Storm Idalia is likely to be a major hurricane when it makes landfall on the gulf coast of Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center. Forecasters anticipate the storm will rapidly intensify before making landfall on Wednesday.

At 8 a.m. Tropical Storm Idalia was about 90 miles south of the western tip of Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph.

The Tampa Bay area is under a hurricane watch and the region could see between 4 to 7 feet of storm surge, according to the hurricane center.

Read the first morning update here.

Hernando, Citrus counties announce school closures

In anticipation of Idalia, some schools are cancelling classes. Hernando County has closed its schools through Wednesday and two of its campuses will be used as shelters. Citrus County schools will end classes early Monday and its schools will remain closed through Wednesday. School districts in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee counties will provide updates of any closures later.

Some local colleges are closing too

Eckerd College will officially close at 7 p.m. and students must leave their dorms by 5 p.m. Monday. Students are not required to attend classes Monday in order to prepare for the storm.

Students and parents with questions can contact Student Affairs between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at 727-864-8421 or tropicalassistance@eckerd.edu with questions.

Pasco-Hernando State College has announced it will be closed starting Tuesday. Other local colleges are monitoring the storm.

Florida officials warn of contaminated gas stations

Over the weekend, as residents filled up their gas tanks ahead of the storm, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warned of “potentially widespread fuel contamination” at gas stations supplied by Citgo from the Port of Tampa.

Those who purchased gas from one of the impacted stores after 10 a.m. Saturday could have contaminated fuel. A list of the stores can be found here.

Where to get sandbags

As Tropical Storm Idalia nears the Tampa Bay area, many local governments are opening sandbag stations to residents ahead of the storm. Residents should check their city’s website for the latest updates on sandbag locations, but here’s a roundup for some of the major areas:

Hillsborough County

  • County residents can collect up to 10 sandbags between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. by showing a driver’s license, utility bill or other proof of residence at sites in Tampa, Ruskin and Plant City. The sandbag sites are located at the Ed Radice Sports Complex, 14720 Ed Radice Drive, in Tampa; the Larry Sanders Sports Complex, 5855 S. 78th St., in Tampa; the E.G. Simmons Conservation Park, 2401 19th Ave. NW in Ruskin; and the Edward Medard Conservation Park, 6140 Turkey Creek Road in Plant City.

Pinellas County

  • The city of St. Petersburg will be operating eight self-service sandbag sites from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, with staff on hand to help seniors and those with disabilities. The city will also open three “full-service” sites where staff members fill and load sandbags for residents. You must show a driver’s license or other proof of residence. Residents can take up to 10 sandbags. Locations can be found here.
  • Clearwater is opening a self-service sandbag site at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex, 2450 Drew St., starting at 9 a.m. and running as long as supplies last. The city is asking residents to bring their own shovels. Staff will be on hand until 2 p.m. to assist residents.
  • Unincorporated Pinellas County residents can visit John Chesnut Sr. Park at 2200 East Lake Road in Palm Harbor or Walsingham Park at 12615 102nd Ave. in Seminole between noon and 6 p.m. to collect sandbags.
  • Other Pinellas County residents can check their city’s websites for sandbags. A list of Pinellas County municipal websites can be found here.

Pasco County

  • The county has two 24/7 self-service sandbag sites located at the Magnolia Valley Golf Course, 7223 Massachusetts Ave. in New Port Richey and the Pasco County Public Works (C-Barn), 30908 Warder Road in San Antonio. Supplies are restocked from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and residents must bring their own shovels.

Times staff writers Bernadette Berdychowski, Romy Ellenbogen, Olivia George, Emily Mahoney, Jeffrey S. Solochek and Kirby Wilson contributed to this report. Times-Herald staff writer Ana Ceballos also contributed.

• • •

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