The word for Orange County is vigilance as Mayor Teresa Jacobs cautioned against panic as Hurricane Irma looms, saying there are no current plans to close county offices and shelters will not open before Saturday.

Sandbags are being distributed immediately, however, as the county opens five locations at 3 p.m. Thursday, and will pass them out to Orange County residents with proof of residency until 7 p.m. today and from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m. in ensuing days as Irma approaches.

In a county storm preparedness press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Jacobs said the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association is coordinating hotel room availability for those people evacuating coastal areas, and South Florida evacuees already are arriving in Central Florida.

“I am not seeing or feeling complacency in this community right now. And I think watching the devastation that a hurricane like Hurricane Harvey can do, I think that our community is much more vigilant. There are so many differences between us and the hurricane in Texas, but we cannot overstate how big this hurricane is, and how dangerous it is,” Jacobs said. “We’re hoping, we’re praying, that it continues to veer further to the east and skirts us all together, but the last thing we can afford is for any of our residents, any of our citizens, to take this for granted, to be complacent.”

Joined by county emergency officials and County commissioners Betsy VanderLey, Pete Clarke, Emily Bonilla, and Victoria Siplin, Jacobs said her main concern is “vulnerable populations,” those living in mobile and manufactured homes, those with special medical needs, and the homeless.

The first shelters to be opened, likely Saturday morning, would be for people with special medical needs, such as needs for electricity, followed by shelters for people fleeing mobile homes. The county is conducting outreach efforts to get to homeless people, to make sure they know they can go to shelters, or are prepared, she said.

The sandbags are being distributed at five places. The Bithlo location will be at 18753 Old Cheney Highway; Goldenrod at 2530 N. Forsyth Rd.; south-central Orange County at 5200 S. John Young Parkway; southwest at 11442 Intermodal Way; southwest at 644 Beulah Rd., and in the Zellwood area at 3400 Golden Gem Rd.

The two biggest threats, she said, are flooded streets and high winds.

County utilities officials already are preparing for storm water management. They contended that loss of drinking water is an unlikely event, but encouraged people to use their taps to fill containers anyway.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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