More than 380,000 in Pinellas County ordered to evacuate, largest in history
By MICHAEL SANDLER
Published August 12, 2004
CLEARWATER - Responding to Hurricane Charley, Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously ordered the largest mandatory evacuation in county history.
The board declared a local state of emergency for Pinellas County beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Gary Vickers, the county emergency management director, called for the first mandatory evacuation of Pinellas affecting people in in evacuation areas A, B and C, along with all mobile home parks, a population of more than 380,000 people.
Vickers said it could qualify as the "largest peacetime evacuation" ever in mainland United States.
Most of the people affected live in low-lying coastal areas.
The evacuation officially begins at 6 p.m. Thursday and will last until 1 p.m. Friday, one hour before the tropical storm force winds land on the coast.
Hurricane winds are expected to reach Pinellas by 6 p.m. Friday.
Vickers said forecasters predict winds of up to 110 miles per hour, storm surges of up to 14 feet inside Tampa Bay, and up to 10 feet on the barrier island side, and up to six inches of rain.
"It's going to move through pretty quickly, so that's the good news," Vickers said.
The closest the county has come to such a large scale evacuation came in 1985, when Hurricane Elena forced county officials to order the evacuation of 140,000 people.
Vickers predicted most of damage would come from heavy winds and storm surge, bringing down trees and powerlines and destroying mobile homes.
"Not catastrophic, but there will be a recovery process," Vickers said.
By calling for the evacuation, Vickers said people shouldn't panic or feel they need to leave Pinellas. The best option is to move to a friend or relative living on higher ground, or to one of the designated shelters. People with special needs should call their local fire department or the county and seek assistance.
Vickers said people living in D, E and non-evacuation areas should stay put.
"The important thing now is there is an emergency," said County Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala, who lives in an A area and went home Thursday to prepare her home before heading back to the emergency operation center. "People should pay attention, listen to the professionals and be ready to respond to their direction."
Latvala will serve on a emergency executive policy group that includes Vickers, County Administrator Steve Spratt, Sheriff Everett Rice, County Attorney Susan Churuti and someone from the school district and municipalities.
"Our citizens are so well informed, I haven't seen panic," Latvala said. "So hopefully, that won't happen. When you live on a peninsula, you know what it means and hopefully won't panic."