Get ready, storm watchers urge
A local state of emergency is declared with schools and government buildings closing.
By CARY DAVIS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 14, 2001
Schools and government buildings across Pasco County were ordered closed for today as Tropical Storm Gabrielle headed for Florida's west coast, possibly becoming a hurricane by the time it comes ashore.
"It's not safe for us to run buses in those kinds of gusty winds," superintendent John Long said. "They could blow over."
Emergency management officials recommended a voluntary evacuation for residents in low-lying coastal areas prone to flooding, especially those in mobile homes. Shelters open at 7 a.m. today at Chasco Elementary School, 7702 Ridge Road in New Port Richey, and Wesley Chapel High, 30651 Wells Road.
At a special board meeting Thursday night, county commissioners declared a local state of emergency. That makes the county eligible for state and federal funding.
If Gabrielle continues on the forecasted track, which Thursday evening called for landfall near Sarasota, Pasco likely would be spared a damaging storm surge. That's because the storm's counter-clockwise rotation would push water offshore north of where it makes landfall.
But if Gabrielle jogs slightly to the north -- not out of the realm of possibility, forecasters warned, given the storm's shifts so far -- Pasco could get a direct hit, and at the least would experience coastal flooding from a storm surge.
With the storm picking up power and speed as it approaches land, residents should be prepared for the worst, said Michele Baker, the county's emergency management director.
"Any time there's a tropical system in the gulf, you need to be wary and you need to be prepared," Baker said. "There is still a lot of uncertainty in the forecasts."
The county, like most of the Florida Gulf Coast, was under a tropical storm warning late Thursday. A hurricane watch was in effect along the coast from Tarpon Springs south to the Everglades.
The storm was expected to come ashore this afternoon, but gusty wind and rain will arrive in Pasco this morning. Heavy rainfall, as much as 10 inches, and flooding were expected in the Tampa Bay area.
In addition to public schools, The Genesis School and Genesis Preparatory School also will be closed today.
Judging from activity at local stores Thursday afternoon, residents didn't appear concerned about what might be coming.
At Lowe's Home Improvement Center in New Port Richey, a few people came in to buy plywood and sandbags.
"I don't know if people are taking this seriously," said Mike Steen, an assistant manager at the store. "They'll probably wait until the last minute like they always do."
In preparation for the storm, Baker urged residents to put together a disaster supplies kit, bring in loose items from yards, fuel cars and review evacuation plans.
Sandbags are available at the following locations:
Fire Station 10, 7912 Rhodes Road, Hudson.
Fire Station 17, 4251 Seven Springs Blvd., New Port Richey.
Pasco County Public Works Complex, 7530 Little Road, New Port Richey.
Veteran's Memorial Park, 14333 Hicks Road, Hudson.
Anyone with questions can call the Resident Information Center, 24 hours a day, at (727) 847-8959.
- Staff writer Kent Fischer contributed to this report.