It’s Labor Day weekend and there’s a major hurricane in the Atlantic headed to Florida. Hurricane Dorian was strengthening at press time and expected to make landfall Monday along the east coast of Florida as at least a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130+mph. At noon Thursday, the cone of the storm encompassed the entire Florida peninsula. The exact track was expected to remain up in the air until this weekend.
Dorian entered the Caribbean Sea as a Tropical Storm and became a hurricane on Wednesday, August 28 near the U.S. Virgin Islands, sparing Puerto Rico a direct hit, as the island continues to recover from 2017’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria, with many homes still sporting roof tarps.
Governor Ron DeSantis declared a State of Emergency on Wednesday for 27 east coast counties stretching from the Georgia border to Key West and extending several counties deep. On Thursday, he made a tour of several eastern county Emergency Operations Centers. The State Emergency Operations Center activated Thursday morning, with landfall expected Monday. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz urged Floridians along the east coast to be ready for the storm and to pay attention to media and local officials as the storm nears the state.
East coast stores were experiencing brisk business mid-week as residents stocked up on hurricane supplies. Some in Southwest Florida were also preparing. Heavy rains related to Dorian are likely this weekend and into next week. With the peak of hurricane season still almost two weeks away, preparing for a storm now is good insurance, whether our area takes a direct hit or not from Dorian.
New Florida residents learn quickly that it doesn’t take a full blown hurricane to cause problems. A large slow-moving Tropical Storm can push enough seawater our way and drop enough rain to cause serious flooding. If you live in Fort Myers Beach, you know that the land elevation of Estero Island is at most 6 – 10 feet. The mainland is not much higher. It doesn’t take much of a storm surge or high tide to cause flooding. Listen to weather forecasts. Wind and rain and tide can create very dangerous conditions. Heed evacuation orders if they are issued.
Just as you want to leave when told to, if you want to be able to come back to the island when it’s safe to do so, Island residents and business owners should have a Hurricane Re-Entry Pass, issued by the Town of Fort Myers Beach. Bring a photo I.D. and proof of residency to Town Hall to apply for a pass during their regular business hours (Monday – Friday 8:30am – 4:30pm). See the Town’s website (fmbgov.com) or call 239-765-0202 for details on what proof is needed. If you have a purple (resident) or yellow (business) pass, they are good for the 2019 season. Do not wait for a storm to submit your application. While you’re on the Town’s website, head to “Emergency Preparedness” and sign up for CODE RED, an emergency notification system.
Lee County Emergency Management, which runs the Emergency Operations Center (LeeEOC.com), offers two tools to help residents prepare for and be aware of hurricanes and other emergency situations. The LeePrepares app and the AlertLee notification system. The LeePrepares app, available in Google Play and the App Store, includes GPS locating of evacuation zones, real-time information on shelters and evacuations, re-entry info, curfews, food and water distribution points, hurricane prep plans and supply lists. AlertLee is an emergency notification system that sends out phone, text or email alerts about emergencies. Sign up at www.AlertLee.com
The Fort Myers Beach Fire Department offers a Hurricane Preparedness Guide with a full list of helpful phone numbers, websites, social media sites and a supply list. Download it at www.fmbfire.org
The Lee County All Hazards Guide with information on shelters, pets, generator safety, boats, evacuation zones and after storm cleanup, among other topics, provides a broad range of information. Every resident, especially those new to Florida, should have a copy. Find it at bit.ly/LeeHazardsGuide
Once Dorian is history, take a serious look at your storm preparation and resolve to not be the one standing in front of empty shelves the day before the next storm. Messages to prepare for hurricane season begin in early June when hurricane season begins. Heed those messages.
At the end of hurricane season, pull out your hurricane supplies, use or donate any food that will expire before the end of next year’s storm season and make a list of what you need to refill that kit.
Don’t be scared, be prepared!
By Missy Layfield