As Hurricane Irma stubbornly stays a course aimed directly up Florida's Peninsula, Emergency Operations Centers in Holmes and Washington Counties have each declared a local state of emergency, in addition to Governor Rick Scott's statewide declaration earlier this week.
As of 5 a.m. Friday, Hurricane Irma had decreased in intensity from a Category 5 but remained a strong Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, located about 495 miles southeast of Miami and moving west-northwest at 16 mph.
Officials state if Holmes and Washington Counties are affected, it will likely happen Sunday.
Both groups of EOC officials met Friday morning to make the decision, stating the hurricane's consistent westward shift poses a significant threat to the area.
"Tropical storms are erratic, and tracks can change quickly," read the declaration. "Commissioners recognize the urgency of protecting and providing for the safety and welfare of its citizens."
EOC officials also held subsequent meetings with local hospital officials and other emergency responders coordinating shelters and other plans.
The American Red Cross told officials a shelter should be open immediately in either Holmes or Washington County due to the traffic on I-10.
Should local emergency shelters be activated, residents will be directed to one of the following:
Holmes County - Poplar Springs School (for special need patients and general population), Bonifay K-8 School (general population), and New Hope Fire Station (general population).
Washington County - Roulhac Middle School (815 capacity), Chipley High School (789 capacity), Vernon Middle School (1204 capacity), Vernon High School (1547 capacity), and Roulhac Middle School 5th Grade Wing (Building 12) - for special needs (144 capacity).
Additionally, the Town of Caryville announced Friday that it is offering the field area west of Town Hall, located at 4436 Old Spanish Trail in Caryville, as a place for evacuees to rest, free of charge. Town Clerk Suzanne Floyd states while there are no bathroom facilities available, there are a limited number of electrical hook-ups.
"The Town of Caryville is no stranger to natural disasters and understands the confusion and uncertainty that comes with such an event," said Floyd. "To those who may need a moment of respite from their travels, we welcome you in Caryville."
Caryville is located off I-10, exit 104.
Shelters have not yet been activated, but updates will be provided online at chipleypaper.com as soon as notification of shelter openings is received. The state of emergency is in effect for seven days but could be extended should officials deem it necessary.
The local precautions come after Gov. Rick Scott decided late Thursday to close all public K-12 schools, state colleges, universities and state offices Friday through Monday.
In a press release, Scott said the decision was tied to having all available resources and shelters available, as many schools and universities also double as shelters.
"Floridians are facing a life-threatening storm in Irma, and every family must prepare to evacuate," Scott said in a news release. "Our state’s public schools serve a vital role in our communities as shelters for displaced residents and staging areas for hurricane recovery efforts. Closing public schools, state colleges, state universities and state offices will provide local and state emergency officials the flexibility necessary to support shelter and emergency response efforts.”
Additionally, CareerSource Chipola announced its centers in Blountstown, Chipley, Marianna, and at Chipola College will all be closed until Tuesday, September 12 as well.
Washington County EOC Public Safety Director Lynne Abel urges area residents to utilize the AlertWashington emergency notification system, which sends automated notifications of all local emergencies, including hurricane updates, flash floods, tornadoes, and other watches and warnings issued by the National Weather Service.
Residents can choose to be alerted by text, email, phone, and more.
“We are hoping everyone who can will sign up,” said Abel. “This is a vital tool for updates on significant weather events specific to our area. We encourage people to not panic, but to stay informed and be prepared,"
To register for AlertWashington, visit https://member.everbridge.net/index/453003085614808