The Phoenix Flyer

FL, Tampa Bay officials warn of significant storm potential as evacuations begin and some schools close

By: and - September 26, 2022 12:13 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis, state emergency operations officials and Tampa Bay officials discuss the path of Ian. Credit: Danielle J. Brown.

The National Hurricane Center on Monday placed Tampa Bay under a hurricane watch and a storm surge watch while state and county officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis assess the path of Ian and prepare for evacuations and likely more school closings.

Hillsborough County officials said this morning that they expect to have to evacuate over 300,000 people in advance of Hurricane Ian, and therefore they are calling for some mandatory evacuations beginning at 2 p.m. Monday afternoon.

County Administrator Bonnie Wise says it will take “some time” to evacuate that many people, which is why people need to begin Monday. She called for a mandatory evacuation of citizens in what is known as Zone A, and “voluntary” evacuations in Zone B. Emergency shelters will open at 2 p.m.

“This is not a time for panic. But this is a time to execute a plan,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, who said that in consultation with Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta, all evictions have been suspended for the week to ensure that people have a place safe to stay.

Hillsborough County schools were closed today and will remain closed until at least Thursday. Superintendent Addison Davis said that was necessary to do today because many of those schools will operate as emergency shelters.

Hurricane Ian’s path., Sept. 26, 2022. Credit: National Hurricane Center.

Across the Bay in Pinellas County, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said that this could be one of the worst storms to ever hit the Tampa Bay area.

“This could be the storm that we’ve hoped would never come to our shores,” he intoned while speaking at the Pinellas County emergency operations center.

Pinellas County emergency operations manager Cathi Perkins said the coming storm would be a “scary event” and stressed that “everyone – businesses, individuals – to check your evacuation zone,” saying that the county had updated such zones earlier this year and had changed “for a significant number of people.”

She said that she expected the county to receive 10-15 inches of rain from the coming storm, and that they anticipate “significant flooding.”

“This is no joke. This is life threatening storm surge,” she said.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that while there is no mandatory evacuation calls yet in the county, once that does happen, people need to act, because “if you don’t, and you call for help, we’re not coming because we’re not going to do put our people in harm’s way.”

Some emergency shelters will open in Pinellas at 6 p.m. Monday. More will open Tuesday at 7 a.m.

At Florida’s state emergency operations center, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned: “It will bring heavy rain, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surge along with isolated tornado activity along Florida’s gulf coast. Floridians up and down the gulf coast should feel the impacts of this up to 36 hours before actual landfall due to the size of the hurricane. This is a really, really big hurricane at this point – the diameter, the width of it is about 500 miles wide.”

He added: “You will have counties, probably throughout this morning and into this afternoon, identifying areas vulnerable for evacuations. So you should anticipate that if you’re in counties in Florida’s Gulf coast. Of course, as you go further north in Florida, there is a little more time before those decisions have to be made. So Northern Florida and into the Panhandle, those decisions may not be today – but certainly for Southwest and Tampa Bay.”

DeSantis also announced that various toll roads across Florida will be suspended in preparation for those evacuating their areas, including certain toll roads in the Tampa Bay area, Polk County, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Collier and Broward counties. He said as the hurricane approaches, there may be other toll suspensions across the state.

In addition, local school districts are already shutting down throughout the week.

Here are the school districts with closures at some time throughout the week, according to the Florida Department of Education website:

Charlotte (closed Tuesday)

Hernando (closed Tuesday through Friday)

Hillsborough (Monday through Thursday)

Lake (closed Wednesday through Thursday, early dismissal Tuesday)

Levy (closed Wednesday through Thursday)

Pasco (closed Tuesday through Wednesday)

Pinellas (closed Tuesday through Wednesday)

Polk (closed Tuesday through Wednesday)

Sarasota (closed Tuesday)

Some Florida colleges and universities have also decided to shut down in the Tampa Bay area – Hillsborough Community College, St. Petersburg College, State College of Florida, New College of Florida, and University of South Florida.

DeSantis urged Floridians not to “panic buy” necessities such as water or gasoline.

“If you normally do not drink a lot of water, you don’t need to go out and buy 20 gallons of water right now. So just do what you need to be prepared,” DeSantis said.

As for hurricane response, a total of 5,000 members of the Florida National Guard have been “activated,” according to the Monday press conference, and an additional 2,000 national guard members from Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina have also been recruited for storm response.

At the morning press conference, DeSantis indicated that there may be an additional press conference on hurricane updates later Monday evening, depending on changes in the development of Hurricane Ian.

In addition, locations for the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs and its clinics will be closed for appointments in North Pinellas, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Bradenton and Port Charlotte, according to a governor’s press release later in the day.

Plus, all state buildings will be closed Tuesday in Hillsborough County.

And officers with the Florida Wildlife Commission in all 67 counties have been placed on “high alert status,” with high-water vehicles and shallow draft boats at the ready for areas with flooding.

This story was updated about 1 p.m. based on DeSantis’ remarks and other issues.

This story was updated again about 3 p.m. in connection with a governor’s press release.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.