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A line of cars at the gas station. Traffic crawling over bridges, heading inland. Empty grocery store shelves. Home improvement stores flooded with people buying up plywood to protect their windows. These were some of the scenes across much of Florida and up the coast of the southeastern United States as governors warned about Category 4 Hurricane Matthew’s approach.
Then coastal communities from Florida to North Carolina witnessed first-hand the destructive power of a major hurricane. At Jacksonville Beach, tall sand dunes were flattened by a wall of storm surge that gushed into the streets. In Flagler Beach, floodwaters collapsed portions of A1A, which runs along the coast much like our Gulf Boulevard. There were widespread power outages across Florida’s northern coast.
This was not the worst of the storm. Even after Matthew’s winds had weakened slightly, the storm’s soaking rains caused massive flooding along North Carolina’s coast, trapping people who did not evacuate. Some who did not heed warnings to avoid driving through the floodwaters were swept away. A week after the storm, media reported that 17 of the 27 deaths caused by Matthew in the United States happened in North Carolina, mostly attributed to floods.
As we point out every year, hurricanes are a fact of life in our part of the world. Until we face a major storm such as Matthew, it’s easy to ignore that fact and the preparations we need to take. The end of the hurricane season may be near, but Matthew is a reminder that the threat is not over.Thankfully, millions of people heeded the call to evacuate in enough time to flee the danger. The last time a Category 4 storm hit Pinellas County directly was near the end of an inactive hurricane season. Would you be ready to evacuate or safely hunker down if the next hurricane heads our way before Nov. 30?
As a storm nears, understand what each of the following advisories mean and make sure you are preparing accordingly. For detailed information on how to plan for each of these steps, see the county’s All-Hazard Guide.
A hurricane is on a probable path to reach our area in five days.
As a storm moves closer to land, the accuracy of the forecast increases and residents should step up their preparation.
Prepare as if the storm is headed directly for your home. Be ready for a Hurricane Warning within a few hours if the storm remains on track and begin acting on your disaster plan.
Be prepared for an evacuation order to be issued and know which zone you’re in so you can follow those orders.
If your mobile device is relatively new, it is probably equipped with Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), a system used by local, state and federal authorities to send messages about dangerous weather and other emergencies. If your phone emits a loud beep during an Amber Alert, that means it is equipped with WEA. Visit www.ready.gov/alerts to learn more.
What should you do if you get a weather alert? In some cases, a weather warning such as a tropical storm or hurricane warning may be distributed by the National Weather Service. Currently, when wireless emergency alerts are issued they hit everyone in the county. Since the alert will reach everyone – and since it will likely be general in nature – your first step should be to look for more information on the specific threat where you live and how it applies to you.
In Pinellas County, there are several ways you can determine if your home is under an evacuation order and what you should do: