As Hurricane Irma continues to batter the Caribbean and looms ever closer to the United States mainland, Lakeland, and the rest of Polk County, Florida, is currently under voluntary evacuation.
Irma is expected to arrive in the Polk County area on Sunday, bringing high winds and several inches of rain with her. She is expected to weaken to a Category 2 before she arrives, but that will still be very dangerous.
A Category 2 hurricane has winds from 96 to 110 mph closest to its center, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale. It brings “extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage.”
“Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.”
On Friday, September 8, the Polk County government, announced a voluntary evacuation for mobile homes and areas prone to flooding as a result of heavy storms. The Polk County website said residents living in such areas “are strongly recommended to take advantage of open shelters during Hurricane Irma.”
“We have been saying for several days that Hurricane Irma is a storm stronger than Floridians have seen since Hurricane Andrew,” noted Polk County Emergency Management Director Pete McNally. “With category 3 or 4 strength winds, and rainfall predicted to be more than eight inches, we are encouraging residents to voluntarily evacuate to one of our shelter facilities.”
A list of Polk County’s available shelters can be viewed below or on the Polk County official website. These shelters will open at 7 a.m. on Saturday, September 9.
1700 Forest Lake Drive
Davenport School of the Arts
4751 N CR 547
Lake Region High School
1995 Thunder Road
Tenoroc High School
4905 Saddle Creek Rd.
Spook Hill Elementary
321 Dr. J.A. Wiltshire Ave., E.
Mulberry Middle School
500 Martin Luther King Ave.
Lake Marion Creek Elem.
3055 Lk. Marion Creek Rd.
Donald Bronson Community Center
124 Bronson Trail
Chain of Lakes Elementary
7001 CR 653
Additionally, shelters for Polk County residents with special needs will open at the same time and date at the following location. These shelters are designed to accommodate those with medical or physical conditions, who may depend on medical equipment.
Polk Co. Health Department
1255 Brice Blvd.
Ridge Community H. S.
500 W. Orchid Dr.
1810 W. Parker Street
Polk County has a single pet-friendly shelter, located at Lake Region High School, 1995 Thunder Road, Eagle Lake. Residents must bring their pets’ shot records and their food, in addition to housing them in an airline-approved carrying case or crate.
On Monday, September 4, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all Florida counties, in anticipation of Irma’s anticipated arrival and impact, according to the Washington Post.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd made headlines with a declaration of his own, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The often-controversial lawman advised that county shelters would be monitored by his officers and they will be checking Ids. Anyone with an outstanding warrant will be taken into custody. The announcement was met with backlash on social media, with many saying Judd’s tactics would discourage people from seeking shelter, endangering their lives.