With mandatory evacuation orders for more than 260,000 Pinellas County residents, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Saturday morning that while it’s a crime not to evacuate, people won’t be arrested if they don’t leave their homes.
“If you want to make a bad decision – what I think is a stupid decision – then you get to do that,” he said.
That mandatory evacuation order includes all residents living in mobile home parks, beach communities and other low-lying areas. Speaking at the Pinellas County Emergency Management Center in Largo, Gualtieri repeated that if people don’t leave now, they shouldn’t expect his department to bail them out.
“After you’ve been told over and over and you choose not to listen to the warnings, you can call, but we’re not coming,” he said. “Because we’re not going to put our people at peril and at risk.”
The sheriff said he saw no scenario where people living in Zone C would have to leave their homes (you can find your evacuation zone here).
Pinellas County Assistant County Administrator John Bennett also said that no one would be turned away from a shelter if they have a pet (you can find Pinellas shelters here).
Gualtieri said that his dept. also is in the process of moving the approximately 3,000 people currently being detained in Pinellas County Jail in Clearwater, but admitted it would be a challenge.
“We are going to do everything we can to mitigate the impact and to return it to normal housing as soon as we can, but it’s going to take some time, and it’s going to be something that we’re going to have to deal with for the next couple of days,” he said.
“My biggest concern is for the safety of every single person in this county, and that we do everything possible to mitigate the loss of life,” said Gualtieri.