Marilyn and Dave Whiting, 81, decided to pack a few things, leave their home in the Schalamar retirement community off US 92 and head to the Tenoroc High School hurricane shelter on Tuesday. afternoon before Hurricane Ian is expected to land Thursday morning.
“Dave has a lot of medical issues and he’s not moving around very well and we really don’t have a lot of family around to watch out for us,” Marilyn Whiting said. “We came here about three or four years ago. It was good – very good. We didn’t get much sleep, but at least we stayed alive.
With the outer edges of the storm clouds swirling overhead, the Whitings were among dozens of families who visited 17 Polk County public schools on Tuesday when they opened in as hurricane shelters.
Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid told an emergency school board meeting this morning that the shelters could serve nearly 30,000 people, including at least 200 people with medical needs.
The school district and Citrus Connection have worked together to transport people with significant medical conditions to special needs shelters – McKeel Central Academy in downtown Lakeland and Ridge Community High School in Davenport. The Florida Department of Health Specialty Care Unit at 1255 Brice Blvd. in Bartow is also open.
Heid said he had wanted to keep schools open on Tuesday, but the state Emergency Operations Center and National Weather Service asked if they could open shelters today after ordering nearly 400 000 coastal residents to evacuate.
Around Lakeland, people were bracing for what is expected to be a Category 4 storm when it hits the Gulf Coast; it is expected to strike near Englewood Thursday morning, with the eye moving northeast and over Polk County later in the day, according to today’s 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. The storm is also expected to persist, dumping heavy rain on an already saturated area.
An excavation machine along the Polk Parkway lowered its dragline cage to the ground. Lights on tall poles along the boardwalk and I-4 were also lowered. People bring plants, outdoor furniture, and anything else that could become a projectile in hurricane-force winds.
The Polk County Emergency Management website said people should consider the elevation of their home or apartment if they plan to shelter there.
“If we experience a storm that could cause significant storm surge to your home, you should consider other options,” the website says. “Also, people living in manufactured and mobile homes cannot use this option. Mobile homes and manufactured homes are not built to withstand the high winds associated with tropical storms and hurricanes.
If you are evacuating to a friend’s house or a hotel, make sure it can withstand a storm or flood.
“You have to make sure where you’re going is safe,” he says. “It defeats the purpose of evacuation if you go to a dangerous place.”
See the latest updates on hurricane closures and services.
Schools are built with hurricane shelters in mind. Heid said their staff bring food and toiletries to the 17 shelters.
“The facility staff deliver toiletries and all the things that most people don’t realize need to happen,” Heid said. “You put 2,000 people in a gymnasium, you’re going to have to have on-call supplies.”
Emergency management officials are also urging people to pack a seven-day survival kit during and after a disaster.
“You should not provide water, electricity or utilities during this time,” officials warned.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd urged people to follow orders from authorities and do what they say.
“It’s a very dangerous storm. If they tell you to evacuate, evacuate,” Judd said. Please note that you cannot call us in the middle of the storm if you are scared and think we are going to pick you up. If you do not evacuate, you will have to fend for yourself until the storm has passed.
The five Lakeland huts are:
- Sleepy Hill Elementary School, 2285 Sleepy Hill Road
- R. Bruce Wagner Elementary School, 5500 Yates Road
- George Jenkins High School, 6000 Lakeland Highlands Road
- Highlands Grove Elementary School, 4510 Lakeland Highlands Road
- Kathleen High School, 1100 Red Devil Way
Other Polk Shelter locations are:
- Horizons Elementary School, 1700 Forest Lake Drive, Davenport
- Chain of Lakes Elementary School. 7001 Route 653, Winter Haven
- Mulberry Middle School, 500 SE Martin Luther King Jr Ave., Mulberry
- Spessard Holland Elementary, 2342 EF Griffin Road, Bartow
- Auburndale High School, 1 Bloodhound Trail, Auburndale
- Citrus Ridge Academy, 1775 Sand Mine Road, Davenport
- Lake Marion Creek Middle School, 3055 Lake Marion Creek Drive, Poinciana
- Winter Haven High School, 600 6th St. SE, Winter Haven
Before you go, check the shelter policies here.
Shelters for special needs:
- McKeel Academy, 1810 W. Parker St., Lakeland
- Florida Department of Health Specialty Care Unit, 1255 Brice Blvd., Bartow
- Ridge Community High School, 500 Orchid Drive, Davenport
- Tenoroc High School, 4905 Saddle Creek Road, Lakeland
- Lake Region High School. 1995 Thunder Road, Eagle Lake
- Haines City High School. 2800 Hornet Drive, Haines City
Pet owners should bring shooting records for their pets, an airline-approved carrying case or crate, and pet food.
Florida Disaster.org said people should pack their bags:
- A two-week supply of medication
- A list of required medical device style, serial number and manufacturer information
- Flashlights and batteries
- A weather radio
- Cell phone chargers
- Activities for children
- A written list of important phone numbers (your cell phone battery could die)
- Sturdy Shoes
- Non-perishable food
- Water – 1 gallon per person per day
- Manual can opener
- Important documents like insurance cards, medical records, banking information, social security cards, birth/marriage certificates, pet vaccination records, a copy of your will
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning journalist from Lakeland. She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.