Hurricane Irma, a major storm with wind speeds of 175 miles per hour, shifted further west Thursday night, making the potential effects on Gainesville more severe.
Hurricane Irma will approach the coast near Jacksonville late Sunday possibly as a Category 2 storm. The northeastern area of the state can expect tropical storm force winds ranging from 100 mph to 120 mph, according to a National Weather Service update as of Thursday night.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, lifting highway tolls and canceling classes in Florida schools Friday and Monday.
UF and Santa Fe College canceled classes on Friday due to Scott’s decision. UF previously announced campus would close Sunday and Monday. The opening home game of the football season was also canceled after being initially moved up to noon.
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe declared a state of emergency Wednesday for seven days, according to Alligator archives.
UF spokesperson Janine Sikes said UF will likely open two shelters on campus, with details to be announced Friday. Generators for the buildings have been tested.
Alachua County opened 12 shelters, including nine general population shelters, one special needs shelter and two pet-friendly shelters.
Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol vehicles will continue to run through Saturday night, Sikes said. Dining halls will have regular hours until Saturday night and then will have selective hours from Sunday to Monday.
Regional Transit System has no plans currently to remove buses from routes, but if winds exceed 35 mph, all RTS buses will have to be removed from the road, said city spokesperson Chip Skinner.
“It’s a wait and see right now,” Skinner said. “These are heavy vehicles and are very sensitive to winds over 35 miles per hour.”
Gainesville and Alachua County government offices will close Friday at noon and remain closed Monday. Curbside waste collection is suspended Monday.
Gainesville Regional Utilities said tap water is safe to drink during the storm because Murphree Water Treatment Plant can operate on standby power.
Residents can collect sandbags from the Gainesville Public Works Department, located at 405 NW 39th Ave., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while supplies last, until Saturday.
During the storm, all Publix locations will be open and operating with regular hours. Target will remain open Friday and Saturday.
UF Health Shands Hospital will operate 24/7 throughout the storm, and UF’s veterinary hospitals will be open for emergency cases.
The American Red Cross will host three free, public courses over the weekend on disaster relief and shelter training, said ARC spokesperson Christian Smith.
The “Just in Time” training courses were designed in the wake of Harvey, and are designed to train volunteers to help the Red Cross with food distribution and disaster relief in affected areas, like Texas, Louisiana and possibly Florida, Smith said.
The second course in the program will be Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Marion County Emergency Management center in Ocala, and the third will be Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Red Cross site, located at 1425 NW Sixth St.
Smith said the Red Cross may offer aid to areas in the wake of the storm if and when the county requests it. Regardless, people who attend the training sessions will be better equipped to help their own neighborhoods and loved ones, she said.
“If they’re not able to be used for this storm here, some have offered to even help us in Texas and Louisiana,” Smith said. “People’s hearts are really great.”
Liz McMaster left Gainesville on Tuesday night with the belongings that could fit in her car and her newly adopted 1-year-old cat, Ellie.
She drove up to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to fly to Colorado and stay with her boyfriend, Lucas, far away from Hurricane Irma.
McMaster, a 22-year-old UF mechanical engineering fifth-year student, said she wasn’t going to take any chances after seeing the destruction Harvey wrought.
“I think that there’s no safe city in Florida,” McMaster said. “Even if you’re missed by 200 miles, the weather’s going to be catastrophic.”
As a firm believer in climate change, McMaster said newer hurricanes are going to be stronger than Floridians are used to. She wanted her parents and younger brother, 20-year-old Scott, to evacuate with her, but she said they decided to hunker down in their hometown of St. Petersburg.
McMaster, safe in Fort Collins, Colorado, said she worries for her family and for the rest of her state.
“It’s crazy, we all have the mindset like, ‘Oh we’ve done this a million times,’” she said. “They just don’t understand that climate change is affecting these storms, they’re not going to be the same.”
Gainesville resident Jennifer Sokoloff said her dad evacuated from the West Palm Beach area around 11 a.m. Wednesday but didn’t make it to Gainesville until after 9 p.m. While her father made the 10-hour crawl up the interstate, the 38-year-old searched four different stores for water and food for herself, her family and her dog, Leo.
While waiting in lines for water and gas, Sokoloff saw local grocery stores and gas stations turn into boxing rings. She even called the police while pumping gas because she witnessed a fight nearly break out over pricing.
“Be patient and kind,” she said. “You’re not getting anything out of being nasty or starting fights in all these lines.”
In the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma destroyed houses and left thousands homeless, according to The New York Times.
Hundreds of miles away, Ricardo Valle González felt helpless.
Hurricane Irma was expected to inflict catastrophic damage in Valle González’s home country of Puerto Rico. It ended up leaving 60 percent of the island without power, according to The New York Times. Valle González didn’t know what would happen to his aunts, uncles and grandparents who still lived on the island.
All he could do was wait. Nearly 8 hours after the storm hit Puerto Rico, Valle González spoke to his family.
“I was very stressed, mainly because I know the infrastructure there is not the best,” said the 18-year-old UF business administration freshman. “It was very stressful for me, knowing that there was nothing I can do.”
Valle González’s family, who live throughout the island, were prepared with supplies, he said. His grandfather boarded up the windows outside of the house. His uncle, who lives in an apartment, didn’t have window protection.
“I spoke with one of my aunts who lived inland, and she said they received some wind and rain, but nothing nearly as bad as they expected,” he said. “They’re alright and there is minimal damage to their home.”
As South Florida braces for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, Hannah Child, a UF animal sciences freshman, worries for her family and her home in the Florida Keys.
Her mother and grandparents evacuated to the Ocala area but her father and brother are waiting the storm out in the Keys.
“Our house is built to withstand (Category) 5 hurricane winds, but you know you can’t trust those things sometimes, and we live right on the water, so it’s even more of a threat,” the 18-year-old said.
Child thinks people are underestimating the storm, especially since its exact path is still unknown. She said her father and her brother are waiting to decide what to do, but the decision is complicated.
“It’s a lot to do, being able to move a lot of your childhood memories and a lot of things you want salvaged,” she said. “It’s a long process and it’s tiring.”
Although Child said she’s not worried about Gainesville, she is scared for her home.
“It’s going to be very sad to come next time and it’s absolutely gone, and not the same,” she said.
Stay up to date on Hurricane Irma at alligator.org/hurricane.