Hurricane’s arrival puts officials in hurry-up mode

With Hurricane Matthew looming in the Atlantic Ocean, local officials spent Thursday preparing for the storm and providing information to local officials and residents. 

On Wednesday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center reported the hurricane at Category 3 and that it “is expected to be very near the East Coast of Florida by Thursday evening.” 

The hurricane is expected to remain a Category 3 or strengthen as it moves up the coast, the hurricane center reported. 

Putnam County Emergency Management Capt. Paul Flateau said the agency has kept a close eye on the hurricane and is updating local residents and officials as they gather more information. 

“We’ve been monitoring it since its development,” Flateau said. “At this time, we’re preparing to staff the (Emergency Operations Center).”

Flateau said the center is normally staffed during regular business hours, but during emergencies, Emergency Management staffs – partially or fully – the center around the clock. 

“We’re always monitoring,” he said. “However, when situations dictate, we go down to partial staffing or full staffing for 24 hours.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service listed most Florida counties along the East Coast and some inland counties in a hurricane warning. The weather services reported Putnam and other Northeast Florida counties were under a hurricane watch. 

The state Highway Patrol said Memorial Bridge, which connects Palatka and East Palatka, would remain open unless there are sustained winds of 40 mph – with “sustained” meaning a minute or longer.

Highway Patrol officials said patrol cars are equipped with wind gauges, and the agency would make the decision whether to close the bridge.

Flateau said local residents could find updated hurricane information on Emergency Management’s social media accounts – Putnam County emergency Management on Facebook and @putnamcountyEM on Twitter.

Other information can be obtained by using the Putnam Community Preparedness application, using the CodeRED Mobile Alert app or by signing up for phone or email updates at 

Emergency Management is working closely with county, municipality, health, school and other local officials, Flateau said, and they will update those officials this morning.

To help local residents prevent flooding, Putnam County Public Works Director Press Tompkins said, his department put out sand and bags at 223 Putnam County Blvd. in East Palatka; 145 W. Washington St. in Interlachen; and 1553 County Road 308 in Crescent City. 

“We put out 1,000 bags in each station,” Tompkins said. “People have been coming to get them already. We weren’t going to put them out until (today), but the demand was so great. I’m glad we did it.”

Public Works workers are on standby today and throughout the weekend, Tompkins said. He said the department would work through the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and local fire departments when going out on calls. 

“All Public Works is on standby – on call – right now,” Tompkins said. “We’ve got everybody gassed up and all our equipment in the yard.”

Tompkins and Flateau are encouraging people to stay indoors during the storm unless it is absolutely necessary. And when the storm ends, Flateau said, people should be careful in the clean-up process and not assume downed power lines are dead.

Flateau said Emergency Management would make a decision today whether shelters would be open and which ones would be open. If shelters are opened, he said, people should bring food, medicine, clothes, bedding and any other items they would need in an emergency. 

Emergency Management doesn’t provide hurricane supplies, so people must make sure they are prepared, Flateau said. 

“It’s a life rift, not a cruise ship,” Flateau said. “Whatever you bring is what you have.”