City officials held a press conference at 5:30 p.m. Monday to discuss city operations and provide safety tips about flooding and power outages as Tropical Storm Idalia approaches the west coast of Florida.
Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward was joined by City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, city manager Cynthia Curry, city attorney Dan Nee, Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager Tony Cunningham and a handful of the city’s emergency response team.
Emergency manager and district fire chief Sean Withers reported Idalia is about 103 miles south-SW of the Dry Tortugas and it’s continuing to move north in a slow manner. It’s nudging east, he said, and growing as it sits in open water with no sufficient wind to break it up.
A large number of west Florida residents are expected to evacuate to Alachua County, due to an estimated storm surge of seven to eleven feet, Withers said. Alachua County residents should expect anywhere from four to eight inches of rain over Tuesday, Wednesday and potentially Thursday.
Tornadoes could be a possibility due to tropical storm force winds. Idalia is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, but Gainesville is expecting it to drop categories as it breaks up over land, Withers said.
Withers suggests families stay in doors, charge their batteries, stock up on food, have a plan for evacuation and take care of family pets. He also suggested setting up a communication plan with someone outside of the affected areas of Idalia who can check in every few hours.
"What I mean by a communication plan is someone outside this particular area that they are going to talk to you or call you every day,” he said. “That way if you don't call that person at noon, then they get concerned and they start to have some questions. Make sure you have that communication with your loved ones.”
Tony Cunningham informed residents to check gru.com/stormcentral for storm resources. The website includes a preparedness list, a power outage map and key phone numbers. Residents can report power outages through the website or the GRU outage number: 352-334-2871. Other key numbers are waste water, 352-334-2711 and natural gas, 352-334-2550.
If the power does go out, GRU will send crews out when working conditions are declared safe and hit critical facilities, like hospitals, first. Then they’ll target areas based on population, Cunningham said.
“Our folks will be ready — some of them will bunker in overnight, so that as soon as it’s possible to go out, they’ll go out and start restoring power,” he said.
Cunningham warned residents to stay away from broken power lines and standing water.
Director of Public Works Brian Singleton said Wednesday trash and recycle collections will take place on Thursday, and Thursday trash and recycle collection will take place on Friday, he said. It’s subject to change based on storm effects.
“We do ask that our neighbors do not place the garbage and recycling curbside until after the storm has passed,” Singleton said.
Public works is distributing sandbags to residents, with a limit of 10 bags per vehicle. Public works will be distributing sandbags on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. as weather permits. On Monday, they distributed 6,800 sandbags to residents between two different locations, Singleton said.
Sandbags are available at the city’s public works compound, located at 405 NW 39th Ave, and Citizens Field, located at 1000 NE Waldo Road. The public works department will provide assistance to residents who need help putting sandbags in their vehicles.
Singleton reminded residents not to walk or drive through flood water due to possible unforeseen hazards, he said.
Regional Transit System Transit Director Jesus Gomez reported the RTS bus system will operate normally until 1 p.m. Tuesday, then it will operate for free, but with reduced services until winds reach 35 mph. Then it will suspend services until conditions are safe again, he said. There will be no RTS services offered on Wednesday.
Charges for city parking are suspended starting Tuesday at 7 a.m. until Thursday at 6 p.m., he said.
Anthony Persons, special adviser to the Gainesville city manager, said all Gainesville nature parks will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, but active recreation parks will remain open until 1 p.m. Tuesday. On Thursday, park staff will assess storm damage and reopen the parks once they’ve been cleared, he said.
City officials did not comment on hurricane shelters, as Alachua County handles shelters, but Alachua County’s Facebook page confirmed that at least three shelters will be open at 10 a.m. Tuesday. A general population shelter, a pet-friendly shelter and a special medical needs shelter will all be options for those in need.
Alachua County Public Schools and Santa Fe College have canceled school all day Tuesday and Wednesday. UF canceled class starting Tuesday at noon.
Gainesville city offices will be closed Tuesday at 1 p.m., Ward said.
Ward ended the meeting by urging residents to be safe and check on their neighbors. He also commended his team.
“There is no team that I would rather have working with us than the people here at the city of Gainesville,” he said.
Ward also encouraged residents to download the MyGNV app, which residents can use to report various issues during the storm such as broken power lines, power outages, localized flooding and non-life threatening flooding. Follow city emergency updates on safegnv.org and county updates on the Alachua County Facebook page.
Contact Ella at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elladeethompson.
Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.