Storm watchers warn residents: Get ready
County officials prepare for the possibility of a hurricane, heavy rains and flooding as Tropical Storm Gabrielle churns in gulf waters.
By CARRIE JOHNSON
© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 14, 2001
LECANTO -- As Tropical Storm Gabrielle continued to churn in the Gulf of Mexico and rain pelted the West Coast of Florida, Citrus County officials began preparing for the possibility of a hurricane.
Gabrielle remained virtually stationary about 200 miles off the coast of Naples on Thursday, where it continued to gather strength. Representatives from the National Weather Service said it was still too early to predict where the storm would come ashore, but warned West Central Florida residents -- including Citrus County -- to be prepared for heavy rains and potential floods.
"Everybody needs to be paying attention to this storm as far as flooding is concerned," said Amanda Ramella of the National Weather Service.
Citrus County was put on a flood watch at 11:20 a.m. Thursday. The watch is expected to continue through Saturday, Ramella said.
Meanwhile, representatives from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office taped a half-hour television program Thursday on how to prepare for a storm. The show will air at 7 tonight on Channel 27 for Adelphia cable subscribers and Channel 16 for Time Warner customers. It will also be shown locally on Channel 49.
James T. Soukup, emergency operations director, warned residents to pay careful attention to the storm's path and be prepared to evacuate if necessary.
"People have a complacency about evacuating because most people have not been through the fury of what a hurricane can do," he said. "Take it seriously."
If a hurricane warning is issued and an evacuation is ordered, residents will be notified through local media outlets and by emergency workers who will patrol the streets using loudspeakers. Also, the sirens on the county's west side will sound.
A hurricane has not hit Citrus County since the 1960s, when it was brushed by Hurricane Gladys, Soukup said. Even a small hurricane could be devastating: a Category 1 storm with winds of 72 miles per hour would cover the intersection of U.S. 19 and State Road 44 with more than 10 feet of water, he said.
If a mandatory evacuation is ordered, the county will open temporary shelters at local schools, Soukup said. Pets will not be allowed.
Public Safety Director Charles Poliseno spoke with all county firefighters Thursday and told them to be on high alert.
"Right now, we're sitting and waiting to see what the storm will do," Poliseno said. "Hopefully we'll know more by tomorrow."
Judy Tear, a county emergency management planner, urged residents to begin stocking emergency supplies, including canned goods, bottled water and plenty of batteries.
"The threat of a hurricane can be very stressful," she said. "It helps to be prepared."