TAMPA — Memories of Hurricane Ian’s last-minute shift fresh in her mind, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor urged residents Monday morning to finalize their preparations for the arrival of Idalia.
“Our friends down south didn’t have the time to prepare that they needed because of the unpredictability of these storms,” Castor said at a news conference, pointing to the scramble residents of Southwest Florida faced when Ian moved south before landfall. “So we are just asking everyone, please ensure you are ready.”
“Plan for the worst,” echoed Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Barbara Tripp. “If you’re in the cone, you’re in the zone.”
Castor signed an executive order Monday, granting emergency powers for a seven-day period and declaring a local state of emergency ahead of Idalia, which is expected to strengthen into a Category 3 hurricane.
The precise size and strength of Idalia, which became a tropical storm Sunday, as well as what path it ultimately will carve, remained uncertain Monday morning. But this much is clear: The Tampa Bay region, with nearly 700 miles of shoreline and more than 3 million residents, is vulnerable to severe flooding, even without a direct hit.
City leaders urged residents to monitor forecasters, charge electronics, fill up on gas and check in on neighbors at the news conference, which was interrupted by the buzz of emergency phone alerts declaring a hurricane warning in effect for the area.
“We have multiple shelters that will be activated later today,” Tripp said, adding that the Tampa Fire Rescue Emergency Operation’s Center, partially operating from noon Monday, will be fully activated Tuesday 7 a.m.
“Take this storm seriously,” Tripp said, urging residents to clear any clogged drains, tidy debris around their property and take advantage of the hurricane tax break to buy any last-minute supplies. The city also has street flooding maps updated in real time: https://tampa.gov/floodmap.
“Do what you can right now to be prepared,” Castor said, adding that the city is “working closely” with the state and Hillsborough County, which Monday morning announced school closures Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We’ve been preparing for this for years,” said Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw. The department has high-water and special rescue vehicles ready, but reminded residents that at some point, high wind conditions may mean they cannot venture out.
He urged residents to have family reunification plans in place and to assume that they will experience power and cell service outages.
“We’re prepared,” Bercaw said. “The question is: Are you prepared?”
As of Monday morning, the city is forecast to experience storm-force winds by late afternoon Tuesday.
“But, as we all know,” Castor said, “that is subject to change.”
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