State of emergency

-A A +A
By Erin Hill

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida as Hurricane Irma, which became a Category 5 storm Tuesday, is expected to make landfall by the end of the week.
A year ago, many Floridians were recovering from the effects of Hurricane Hermine.  That storm narrowly missed Gadsden County, though it tore through Tallahassee, leaving thousands without power for days.  Some Gadsden County residents suffered power outages as well, but many of those were quickly restored.  
Now, just after the one-year anniversary of Hermine blowing through, emergency management officials urge Floridians to brace themselves and prepare for what may come.
Law enforcement officers, city and county officials, representatives for local nursing homes and many more met at the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday to discuss planning for the storm.
GCSO Maj. Shawn Wood said they normally don’t go into this mode until five days out, but this storm is one like they’ve never seen before.
“This thing is going to be a killer,” Wood said.  “We’re a non-evacuation county, but if this thing rolls in with 150- to 175-mile-per-hour winds, we have to leave.”
Clyde Collins, a Gadsden County building inspector, said there is no building in Gadsden County that could withstand 150 mph winds.  He said the sheriff’s office can withstand 90 mph winds at the most, and that’s with the windows boarded up.
Tashonda Whaley, GCSO’s emergency management coordinator, said if the storm heads this way, Gadsden County Middle School, Gadsden County High School and possibly Havana Middle School would serve as evacuation shelters.  GCHS would welcome the medically fragile.  
“If you know anyone with oxygen tanks, talk to them to see if they have transportation to get to shelters,” Whaley said.
She said Gretna and Havana Elementary Schools, which are no longer in operation, would serve as host shelters for those evacuating from South and Central Florida.
She said they began working with the faith-based community last week, training church members to become volunteers.
With the exception of Hermine, Gadsden County has not been hit by a hurricane since Kate, which made its way through North Florida in 1985.    Wood said even Kate wasn’t a hurricane by the time it made it to Gadsden.  It had been downgraded to a tropical storm.
Although Hermine was minor in comparison to Harvey, which devastated Texas just last week, it was a wake-up call for many thinking Gadsden County was far enough inland to ensure safety.  Not to mention, Hermine was a Category 1 storm when it made landfall.
Wood said this is not the storm area residents want to ride out.
During Gretna’s city council meeting Tuesday, City Manager Antonio Jefferson told those at the meeting that the latest projection showed Gretna to be west of the storm, which is better than the eastern side. He also urged citizens to have a hurricane plan in place and to be prepared to have their lives impacted for a few days.

Times correspondent Terrance Chisolm contributed to this report.