Residents from the Caribbean to Gainesville are on edge and preparing for a possible hit by Category 5 Hurricane Irma.
The hurricane has maximum sustained wind speeds of 185 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. Forecasts are unsure of where and when the storm will land. Governor Rick Scott tweeted he declared a state of emergency in Florida on Monday. The storm is one of the strongest to form in the Atlantic and is only surpassed in wind speeds by 1980’s Hurricane Allen, CNN reported.
Alachua County Emergency Response Team met Tuesday to discuss the county’s plan for the hurricane, according to an Alachua County Emergency Management Facebook post. The county is under a state of emergency.
The City of Gainesville hasn’t held an emergency operations meeting yet concerning Hurricane Irma but likely will sometime this week, said Chip Skinner, a city spokesperson. Skinner encouraged Gainesville residents to begin assembling hurricane supplies including enough food and water for 72 hours.
“(The city is) well-prepared,” he said. “People just need to make sure that they’re prepared at their homes.”
After shelves were emptied Tuesday afternoon, most local Walmart and Publix stores expect to have more bottled water on Wednesday at about 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.
City of Gainesville Public Works Department will distribute sandbags at 405 NW 39th Ave. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday or until supplies run out. Each vehicle can pick up a maximum of 10 sandbags but will be required to show proof of city residency, according to the city’s website.
No decisions have been made yet about whether or not shelters will be open, but Skinner said that if shelters are needed, the primary ones will be Easton-Newberry Sports Complex, located at 24880 NW 16th Ave., and the City of Gainesville/Alachua County Senior Recreation Center, located at 5701 NW 34th Blvd.
Alachua County Public Schools is monitoring Hurricane Irma and keeping in touch with Alachua County Emergency Management with meetings twice a day, said Jackie Johnson, an ACPS spokesperson. Johnson said the school system will notify parents via social media, phone, email and web if school is canceled. Johnson said some of the schools may be used as shelters.
“It’s a day-by-day situation,” she said. “Once we have a better sense of what the situation is, we will have a better sense of what we may need to do in terms of closing schools.”
Bracing for potential impacts, UF has begun to prepare for Hurricane Irma. However, it’s still too soon to know what path the hurricane will take, said Janine Sikes, a UF spokesperson.
Sikes said that parts of UF around the state are reviewing their preparedness plans and can implement them by the end of the week. An emergency team operation meeting will also be scheduled for later this week to plan for preparing campus for the storm.
Sikes assured that students shouldn’t be concerned about their safety in Gainesville.
“I can tell you that Gainesville and especially in the University of Florida, is one of the safer places you could be,” she said. “We have many of the things that students would need on campus.”
Utilities are kept underground and there will be shelters and emergency crews. The hospital and dining halls will be open, Sikes added. Shelter locations have yet to be determined, as of press time.
The status of Saturday’s football game also hasn’t been determined. The University Athletic Association is monitoring the storm closely, Sikes said.
Michael Haddad, a 20-year-old civil engineering junior, is concerned about the hurricane making landfall in Florida.
“My family lives in Clearwater, so if it goes up the west side, it’ll take a turn for the worst for them.”
Sunil Mahajan, a UF biology senior, said his roommate bought canned food from Winn-Dixie and Walmart and filled his car’s tank Sunday and Monday to prepare. The 21-year-old said his roommate tried to buy water but, due to shortages, left with 5 gallons of soda and tonic water instead.
Mahajan isn’t worried about the storm, having endured several other hurricanes that have battered Florida.
“I think people are overestimating how strong it’s going to be,” he said.
Whether or not the storm is as bad as people anticipate, Mahajan is hoping for one thing.
“I hope classes are cancelled,” he said. “That would be really nice.”