Central Florida residents spent Wednesday checking off items on their hurricane prep lists to get ready for the one of the strongest storms to ever hit the Atlantic.
Even though Hurricane Irma has shifted to the east, Gov. Rick Scott urged residents not to focus on the storm’s path but to “keep an eye on this incredibly dangerous storm. Remember, we can rebuild your homes, we cannot rebuild your lives.”
Irma is packing 185 mph winds but is forecast to weaken over the next two days. But it would still be a powerful Category 4 storm, with winds of 145 mph or more by the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center.
While it’s too early to tell if it will make landfall, it could impact Florida late Sunday or early Monday.
Shelters will be set up wherever needed and the governor said there’s “no reason not to evacuate if ordered to do so.”
Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, began mandatory evacuations of tourists and visitors on Wednesday morning. The county’s 80,000 residents were ordered to evacuate beginning Wednesday evening.
Broward County ordered those living in coastal in low-lying areas to evacuate Thursday.
Many of those evacuees are heading to Central Florida.
The Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, which represents 80 percent of hotels in the area, sent an email to its members Wednesday checking availability for evacuees headed to the region.
Kevin Craig, director of public policy for the association, said that while a lot Central Florida hotels are sold out he encourages people to check websites like Expedia.com or call the hotels directly. Craig said than many of the hotels will have cancellations from visitors and are creating wait lists.
Sharli Hill-Aleman said she is prepared to stay or leave, depending on the hurricane’s track.
“I absolutely think it’s coming but I’m hoping it will slow down to a category 3,” said the Winter Park resident. “I know how important it is to take every precaution but we will evacuate if it’s heading our way. My house is not worth my life.”
A disaster relief operation has been set up at the American Red Cross at 5 N. Bumby Ave., Orlando.
Expect long lines if you plan to pick up sandbags. Local governments are giving out the bags throughout Central Florida but bring your own shovel and be ready to carry the 20-pound sacks to your car.
Debbie Shaw sat in an hour-long line at the Winter Park Public Works Compound to fill her sandbags.
“We’re far enough inland that it’s safe to stay but we’re doing everything to get prepared,” said Shaw who is from Derbyshire, England and wants to be ready for her first hurricane.
Winter Park residents used wheelbarrows and carts to manage their 12-bag limit. Jennifer Guillette carried the bags to her car as her weight workout for the day.
“Everybody is in good spirits and helping each other,” she said.
Several local schools have announced closures, while others are waiting for a more detailed forecast.
Public schools in Marion, Volusia and Osceola counties will be closed Friday and Monday. Officials in Seminole, Orange and Brevard county public schools are monitoring the hurricane and will notify students about closures on social media.
The University of Central Florida canceled all classes from starting Thursday and the campus will remain closed through Monday. Bethune-Cookman University also canceled all classes until further notice.