BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Emergency Management announced mandatory evacuations of all residents in zones A and B on Friday morning, including coastal Hernando County and all mobile homes.
And given that the Hurricane Irma has been tracking farther west, officials said that people living in zone C, along portions of U.S. 19, also should be finishing up preparations to evacuate if the call to do so should be made.
There are about 10,000 residents in zones A and B, officials said. There are 11,700 mobile homes in the county.
Coastal flooding, surge and wind are considered the biggest threats from Hurricane Irma, according to a news release.
"Residents should first attempt to find shelter with nearby relatives, friends and neighbors," emergency management director Cecilia Patella said. "If that is not an option, citizens may evacuate directly to a shelter."
The county opened shelters Friday afternoon for those who do not have any other choice. Those include: Hernando High School; Explorer K-8 School; Nature Coast Technical High School; Challenger K-8 School, which is the special needs shelter, and Parrott Middle School, which is the pet-friendly shelter.
Patella told the Times that, with the storm track wobbling more toward the west, surge possibilities up to 6 feet are the best-case scenario, as was experienced in Hurricane Hermine last year. Those surges could go far higher, 10 to 15 feet if the storm makes a more direct hit on Hernando County like the most recent predictions have shown, she said. People along the coast need time to evacuate, she said, noting that busy roadways and gas shortages will complicate the process.
"We will have significant impact,'' Patella said, based on the shifts in the hurricane track prediction. Potentially, the impact in Hernando County would be that of a Category 3 hurricane. "You need to take this seriously. You need to take emergency protective measures. You need to do so safely, but you need to do it now,'' she said.
While Hernando County, as of Friday morning, was not under a hurricane watch area, that could change later, officials said. The evacuation order was discussed at an early Friday meeting of the county executive policy group, which includes Patella, County Administrator Len Sossamon, Sheriff Al Nienhuis and superintendent of schools Lori Romano.
"Now is the time to finalize your preparations for the storm,'' according to the Friday advisory. "Residents in coastal areas, including Aripeka, Hernando Beach, Pine Island, and Weeki Wachee, as well as low-lying and flood-prone areas, need to prepare to relocate to higher ground. Mobile home residents countywide should also prepare to seek refuge in a hardened structure.''
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Sheriff Al Nienhuis said that residents evacuating to shelters do not have to worry about being housed with sex offenders or predators. The county plans to house anyone in those categories at the Enrichment Center in Brooksville, he said during a midday news conference Friday.
He also told residents that, as they evacuate, they should be patient. Traveling anywhere out of the area will bring long travel and wait times.
"We don't need violence on top of a hurricane,'' Nienhuis said.
Coastal residents ordered to evacuate will be expected to show identification when they return home after the storm, officials said. Additional sheriff's patrols are planned to ensure safety in the areas where people have had to leave their homes to stay safe.
For those who choose to stay, Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Carroll said people need to be aware that emergency equipment is pulled off the road for safety purposes once sustained winds reach 40 mph to 50 mph. Winds in a Category 3 hurricane could range from 111 mph to 130 mph.
The public information number for Emergency Management is (352) 754-4083.