Law enforcement officials: Hunker down Saturday night for storm

Officials said by sunset Saturday residents need to be in the location in which they plan to stay for the duration of Hurricane Irma.

Putnam County Fire and EMS Battalion Chief Paul Flateau said the Emergency Operations Center staff requests residents no longer travel by Sunday morning.

“Get to your place now,” Flateau said.

Emergency officials encourage residents to evacuate from mobile homes and low-lying areas and seek shelter with family and friends before considering a shelter.

“Evacuate if asked because we may not be able to get to you during the storm,” Putnam County Sheriff’s Office Col. Joe Wells said.

Putnam County shelter locations open 1 p.m. Saturday. Officials recommend enough supplies, toiletries, clothing and food for five days.

“Shelters are not made for comfort,” Flateau said.

Residents need to bring bedding, such as air mattresses and sleeping bags, officials said.

“If you are going to go to a shelter, go to a local shelter,” Wells said.

Wells said the sheriff’s office has seen a significant increase in traffic on U.S. 17 and expects further traffic increases before Irma makes landfall.

“Deputies are reporting below speed limit travel on U.S. 17 throughout the county,” Wells said.

If traffic continues to see back-ups, Wells said, red light configurations could be changed to ease congestion.

During the storm, Wells said, the state Department of Transportation determines when local bridges are closed to travel.

“All bridges — Rice Creek, Dunns Creek, Memorial and Ocklawaha — are managed by the (Department of Transportation) through the (state Highway Patrol),” Wells said. “We wait on their judgment.”

Saturday will see an increase in staffing for emergency responders.

Sheriff’s office deputies will begin staffing double shifts at 6 a.m. in communications, patrol and corrections.

Wells said the extra staffing in the jail is needed as other counties have requested space to move inmates from their facilities.

“The jail in St. Johns County is in the area of current evacuations,” Wells said. “They have asked if we can take some of their inmates, but we haven’t had confirmation yet on whether they are sending them.”

As the storm approaches, Wells said, supervisors in each district determine when deputies stop patrolling and shelter from the storm.

“When wind speeds are sustained at 40 to 50 miles per hour, deputies will be ordered to shelter,” Wells said. “As we found with Hurricane Matthew, conditions can be very different in the south portion of the county compared to the west side. Each district will monitor conditions and determine when to shelter.”

Flateau said at 8 a.m. Saturday additional emergency responders will be staffing shelters, rescue stations and ambulances.

“The extra ambulances will help with coverage,” Flateau said.

Flateau said heavy equipment and vehicles were moved to key locations in an effort for faster deployment after the storm.

During the storm, Wells said, the sheriff’s office will utilize their MRAP, a vehicle typically used during SWAT operations, with a paramedic team in a case of extreme life or death emergency.

Wells said this is the first time the MRAP has been configured for medical emergency responder use.

Wells said after the storm, teams will respond to areas evacuated and low-lying first.

“We expect Dunns Creek, Saratoga Harbor to have flooding,” Wells said. “But, this storm is very different than (Matthew). We have a coordinated plan to clear roadways and answer calls based on priority.”

Flateau and Wells said residents can call 326-7132 for recorded information on the storm or 329-1904 to ask a specific question about the storm.

“Avoid use of 911 and the main line of the sheriff’s office for storm information,” Wells said. “By calling the numbers for the citizen information line, residents can receive up-to-date information without clogging emergency numbers.”