CHIPLEY -- A horseback search and rescue team is prepared to help recover lost loved ones, livestock and horses in response to a potentially dismal hit from Hurricane Irma in the upcoming days.
The team, led by local horse owner Lauren Davis, of Chipley, is comprised of individuals and horses experienced in search and rescue.
"If it's in a wooded area -- that's where our horses can get to, because vehicles can't get into the woods," Davis said, noting horses can traverse high waters, also, the team has a boat for rescue. The team will also drive cattle herds to other areas, if requested.
Hurricane Harvey hit Texas as a Category 4, unleashing torrential rains in the nation's largest cattle state. Although the number is not immediately available, cattle deaths are expected to be high due to lost of fencing caused by sustained hurricane gusts, a news story by Agriculture.com states.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture livestock report, there are about 2,000 milk cows in Washington and Holmes counties combined,
"Up in our areas, here, are not like coastal areas, most of our areas here would take extreme amounts of water to create a problem," said Florida Farm Bureau's Washington County President Bruce Christmas. "Just need to be sure that your livestock is secure and protected, as much as you can, from the elements."
Meteorologist Katie Nguyen at National Weather Service in Tallahassee said the 11 a.m. EST Saturday weather advisory forecasts Washington and Holmes counties to be brushed by the western side of the storm, outside of direct impact.
"It looks like, right now, the really high rain amounts, are really east of your counties," she said. "We are looking at sustained tropical storm force winds, potentially hurricane gusts."
Winds will range from tropical storm force winds of about 40 miles an hour to hurricane gusts winds at about 75 miles an hour. Rainfall will range between two and eight inches.
The counties should expect impact from the storm late Sunday night into midday Monday, Nguyen said.
However, she added, "there's still some uncertainty with the exact timing."
And with the fact of uncertainty lingering around the potential impact of the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, community efforts, such as, Davis' search and rescue team, play vital roles in maintaining safety -- as well as, a creating a peace-of-mind.
"We're just really trying to help our community during and in the aftermath of the storm," Davis said. "I'm doing it because I love my community and I love my horses. And I know that my community have a lot of horses."
Other private citizens are offering a safe have for horses as well.
Gennady Vovchuk of Bonifay opened his 13-acre property to South Florida evacuees, with campers, with the intent to provide safe lodging until they're able to return to their homes.
Scott and Jill Braxton of Vernon also say they are willing to assist evacuees and even locals who need a place to shelter their horses. Contact the Braxtons by calling 850-718-1859.
Local governmental agencies from both counties have issued state-of-emergency advisories. All governmental offices in both counties are closed Monday, as of 11 a.m. Saturday.
Washington County residents can sign up for emergency notifications online at washingtonfl.com, while Holmes County residents are asked to monitor local media reports and direct storm-related questions to Emergency Management by calling 850-547-1112.
Holmes and Washington Counties are each offering host shelters for evacuees, located at the old Bonifay Middle School campus on McLaughlin Avenue in Bonifay and at First Baptist Church of Chipley on South Boulevard in Chipley, respectively. It should be noted that these specific shelters are for evacuees only and that Washington County's host shelter will be relocated to Roulhac Middle School, located on Brickyard Road in Chipley, around noon Sunday.
Local shelters have not yet been activated, but check back for updates on shelter openings at chipleypaper.com and on the Washington County News/Holmes County Times-Advertiser Facebook page
Local shelters will be at the following sites:
Poplar Springs School (for special need patients and general population)
Bonifay K-8 School (general population)
New Hope Fire Station (general population).
Chipley High School (789 capacity)
Roulhac Middle School (815 capacity)
Roulhac Middle School 5th Grade Wing (Building 12) - for special needs (144 capacity)
Vernon Middle School (1204 capacity)
Vernon High School (1547 capacity)
For more information about Laurn Davis' horseback search-and-rescue team or if you're in need of assistance, call her at 850-703-3626.