As Hurricane Ian approaches the Gulf Coast, Lee County officials spring into action to keep the public informed and prepared.
The county team and partners have been actively engaged by using real time past experiences, planning priorities, meeting current needs and staging for the post-storm assistance, according to county commissioner Ray Sandelli.
As of Monday morning, Lee County declared a state of emergency, providing the county the opportunity to recapture federal funds for dollars that are expended locally in preparation for and in response to the storm.
The county’s emergency operations center was fully activated Tuesday morning.
Based on the National Weather Service predictions, all Lee County government offices and schools will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Additionally, the property appraiser, tax collector, supervisor of elections, circuit courts in the court system and Florida Gulf Coast University will be closed on both days, according to county manager Roger Desjarlais.
“I suspect there will be others, but for the moment that’s the list we have,” he said.
As of Tuesday morning, Lee County announced mandatory evacuation orders for Zone A, Zone B and parts of Zone C, based on the county’s communication with the National Weather Service.
“That is as mandatory as can be,” Desjarlais said. “We will not be going house to house and forcing people to leave but we are stressing the importance of people getting out of harm’s way based on the surge models.”
To determine which zone residents are in, it is advised to check the Lee County website, as a map of the zone areas is available. The mandatory evacuation area is generally all the low-lying areas along the coast and the barrier islands.
Those in the evacuation area should not put out their trash, as it will not be picked up.
Those in mobile or manufactured homes are advised to shelter elsewhere, due to expected wind conditions.
There will be 15 emergency shelters opened at 9 a.m. Those going to emergency shelters should bring essential supplies and something to keep them entertained. All county shelters are also pet friendly, requiring that pets also have essential supplies.
The county was anticipating a storm surge projection between 6 and 9 feet, but it is now projected to be between 5 and 10 feet. Because of the change of forecast track, there is now about a 25% chance of Lee County experiencing hurricane force winds.
United Way partners are prepared to open the emergency information hotlines when the shelters open this morning.
“We will continue to monitor the storms throughout the day and provide you the information on any of the changing operations as they occur,” Desjarlais said.
Sheriff Carmine Marceno asked the public to prepare appropriately, including safeguarding homes and outside belongings and ensuring that individuals have food and water in their homes to get them through the storm.
During the storm, if winds hit or exceed 45 miles per hour, law enforcement get off the streets and will no longer respond to calls until the storm passes.
“We want you to be in the right place,” Marceno said. “We want you to be protected and know that the second we can we will reengage immediately and go back out and assist and take calls.”
At some point Wednesday, the school board will determine if schools can continue to operate as usual on Thursday, according to lee county superintendent Christopher Bernier.
The airports are running as normal, anticipating changes when the storm gets closer.
The bridges remain open and county bridges with tolls have been suspended until further notice.
Sandelli encouraged the public to stay updated and informed on the Lee government website, as information and updates are posted daily.
“Stay in touch, gather information and make the decision that is right for you and for your family,” Sandelli said. “Always err on the side of being safe.”