Hillsborough County officials said Sunday morning that people need to be in place now for what is likely to be a dangerous 20 hours or so with Hurricane Irma slowly moving up the coast of Florida.
“There really is no time left,” County Administrator Mike Merrill told reporters at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center in East Tampa.
Tropical storm winds are expected to hit in Hillsborough by noon, with hurricane type winds (74 miles per hour or more) by 7 p.m.
There are 21,000 people now staying in county shelters, with some room available in 17 shelters, but Preston Cook, the county’s director of emergency management, said people need to be in a safe location now.
“You need to be where you’re going to stay and ride out this storm,” he said.
Cook also advised residents not to get complacent after the worst of the winds leave the area, because that’s when the storm surge will kick in “and that is still going to be one of the most dangerous components of this storm.”
Cook advised residents living near bodies of water like the Little Manatee or Alafia rivers to immediately get to higher ground.
Fire Chief Dennis Jones said that once the wind speed hits 40-50 miles per hour, his officers will have it at their discretion on whether they will go out on rescue missions. “At fifty miles an hour with sustained winds, we will not be responding, it’s too dangerous to the apparatus and the personnel.”
Hillsborough County schools are closed through Tuesday. Superintendent Jeff Eakins says it’s unclear how many schools will be able to open later this week for a variety of reasons, depending on if there are any damage to them, whether they may still be used as shelters (40 of them are serving as shelters right now) and how safe the roads will be to transport kids to school.
Residents and visitors can visit hillsboroughcounty.org/