Still several days away from landfall here in the US, Hurricane Irma has already ripped her way through the Northern Caribbean and is expected to head towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico this afternoon and evening. With sustained winds of up to 185 mph, Irma has been labeled as a Category 5 storm, the strongest storm ever recorded on the Atlantic. Weather experts are warning that if she does make landfall here in Florida, the results could be catastrophic. Texas experienced this just recently when Hurricane Harvey made landfall and caused massive flash flooding and wind damage. Harvey was the first major hurricane to hit the US since Hurricane Wilma back in 2005.

While the path of Irma is still uncertain; Hernando County may or may not be affected directly by the storm, depending on which direction it invariably heads. Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in Florida in order to give local governments the time and resources needed to prepare for the storm. Hernando County has already announced that all schools will be closed Thursday and Friday, September 7th-8th, and all after school activities cancelled. Our schools double as storm shelters, so this allows the county time to prepare for an influx of people should evacuations become necessary.

No hurricane should be taken lightly, but it is also important to remember that going into panic mode too soon does no one any good, either. The best way to prepare for a hurricane or storm of any magnitude is to arm yourself with knowledge, and have a plan in place. If you do not already have an emergency plan in place for your family or business, you can visit http://www.floridadisaster.org/getaplan/ to generate a customized plan. Take a look at The National Weather Service's Hurricane Safety page for more information on what to do before, during, and after a hurricane. You can also check out our previous post, Hurricane Preparedness & Safety Tips, for some more ideas. 

As the Tampa Bay area lies inside a 5 day forecast cone, be prepared to evacuate if you live in a coastal or low-lying area, or in a mobile home within a few miles of these areas. To find out if you live inside of an evacuation zone, click here to visit the Emergency Management Zone Lookup. You can type in your Hernando County address to find out if you live in an evacuation zone, as well as the nearest shelter and hospital. There are 14 shelters located throughout the county. DS Parrott Middle School has been designated as a pet-friendly shelter. Challenger K-8 is the designated shelter for those with special needs, and advanced registration is required for that location. Please keep in mind that not all shelters open at the same time, so make sure that the shelter you plan to use is open before you head out. Keep an eye on local news stations as the county begins to activate shelters. You can call Hernando County Emergency Management at 352-754-4083 or visit their website, too. 

If you do need to evacuate, please exercise caution on the roadways. Tolls have been suspended on Florida highways to aid those attempting to head north, but heavy traffic delays are already being in multiple areas, particularly on I-75. Remember to follow the rules of the road, and take alternative routes if possible. While no fuel shortages have been reported yet, expect long lines at gas stations as any folks attempt to fuel up in advance. Hotel rooms in northern Florida and neighboring states are filling up fast; if you plan on leaving, and have not already made arrangements, you should consider doing so as quickly as possible. If you do not need to evacuate, please stay off the major roadways as much as possible to reduce the flow of traffic and the chance of traffic collisions. Never, ever drive in a hurricane - find a place to take shelter and wait out the storm! 

If you are concerned about flooding in or around your home, sand and sandbags are available today through 7 PM. These are self-service stations, so remember to bring your own shovel. Station locations are as follows:

  • Hernando County Department of Public Works
    • 1525 East Jefferson Street
    • Brooksville, FL 34601
  • Hernando County Fire Rescue Station 1
    • 1479 Parker Avenue
    • Spring Hill, FL 34606
  • Hernando Beach Water Tower
    • 4500 Shoal Line Blvd
    • Hernando Beach, FL 34607
  • Ridge Manor Community Center
    • 34240 Cortez Blvd
    • Dade City, FL 33523

Are you stocked up on basic supplies? If the power goes out, or the flood waters rise, it's important to have some basic necessities on hand. These include things like shelf-stable food, water, flashlights or candles, a battery powered or hand cranked radio, extra batteries, prescription and OTC medications, basic first aid supplies, trash bags,  baby wipes, paper plates and utensils, etc. Don't forget about your pets, either - make sure you have food, water, and supplies on hand for them, as well. Emergency Management has checklists available; here are some ideas on what to include in your hurricane food kit. Quick tip - don't include anything you wouldn't normally eat in your emergency supply kit. Potted meat may be a great source of protein, but it doesn't taste any better in raging wind and rain than it does on the regular. Make sure you have plenty of cash on hand, as stores may not be able to take cards due to power outages immediately following a storm. Keep your important documents - IDs, passports, health records, insurance policies, etc - on hand and safe in waterproof containers. 

Water is one of the most important things to have on hand during and after a storm. Heavy flooding can contaminate local water supplies, so it is important to have access to clean drinking water. Experts recommend having enough water on hand for at least 3 days, at a rate of 1 gallon per person (or pet) per day. However, many stores are already out of bottled water, and deliveries can be delayed due to the impending weather. Call ahead to your local store or supermarket to find out if water is still available, or check your social media networks to see if your local family and friends have any tips on where water and other supplies may still be obtained. There are ways to sterilize tap water to make it suitable for drinking if necessary. The two most common methods are boiling and using liquid chlorine bleach. Here are some guidelines for safely disinfecting your tap water, should it become compromised. Remember to conserve your water when possible. Have a bathtub? Fill it with water before the storm hits so that you have additional water available for flushing toilets.

Lastly, we urge you to closely monitor the progress of the storm and local preparations via local news outlets like Bay News 9 and ABC Action News. They will have the most up to date information regarding closures, shelter openings, available resources, evacuations, and the progress of the storm itself. If you experience an emergency, of course, always dial 911. The Hernando County Sheriff's non-emergency line is 352-754-6830. Emergency Management also maintains a recorded message line at 352-754-4111. Keep in mind that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal! Report any price gouging you see to the state's hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

We at The Hardy Team also would like to remind you to be considerate of your fellow residents. Be patient while standing in checkout or gas lines. Buy only what you need so that others have access to resources as well. There is no need for fighting or violence, as we all want the same thing: to be ready and to be safe! Stay informed, and most critically, stay calm. Careful preparation and caution will help keep you, your loved ones, and your property as safe as possible before, during, and after a storm.