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Florida Braces For Irma Impact

This visible light image of Hurricane Irma was captured by NOAA's GOES East satellite as it strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane in the Central Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 5 at 7:45 a.m. EDT

Update 4:27 p.m. — Renata Sago

Support services are available across central Florida as Hurricane Irma approaches for the elderly and people with special needs.

Special needs shelters will be open to keep safe people who require extra resources and health attention. Volunteers and health officials will be working with the Florida Division of Emergency Management to deploy cots, wheelchairs, medication, oxygen and other medical supplies to these shelters.

To get transportation to and placement there, people must be signed up for a special needs registry in their respective counties.

In Orange County, officials say they’ll wait a couple more days before opening special needs and general population shelters.

“The earliest we would probably be opening shelters—given the direction and the path of the storm at this time—would probably be Saturday, but, of course, we do want our citizens to be prepared if they do need to shelter,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs

Special needs shelters are not for people who need ventilators, hospital beds or around the clock care. Those residents are asked to make arrangements with a doctor of caregiver.

Residents are strongly encouraged to dial 311 for more information if they do not have access to county websites.

Orange County Prepping For Influx Of Evacuees

Update 4:06 — Abe Aboraya

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings says central Florida should be prepared for a big influx of evacuees from Hurricane Irma.

Demings says shelters could open as early as Saturday in Orange County. He says officers will not be checking everyone for warrants, but you could be arrested if it comes to the attention of law enforcement.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd today tweeted that they will be checking IDs at shelters and will arrest those with a warrant.

Demings is encouraging residents to seek shelter. He said the law enforcement’s job is to keep the peace at shelters.

“However, in that process, if it becomes known to us that a person has a warrant, or in some cases we’re familiar with an individual, then we have to do our job,” Demings said. “But we will not stand there and every person that checks into a shelter go down and check that person’s name.”

Demings said there are specific shelters set up for sex offenders that will not have children.

Florida Governor Rick Scott estimates 25,000 people have already fled Irma.

Irma Impact Expect This Weekend, Army Corps Preps Waterways

Update: 4:01 p.m. — Brendan Byrne & Associated Press

Central Florida could feel the impact of Hurricane Irma as early this weekend.  “The earliest, reasonable arrival time for tropical storm force winds, which would be 40 mph or greater, would be Saturday evening for the Orlando metro area,” said Scott Kelly, Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

Kelly warns residents to not focus on the exact forecast track. “Tropical storm and hurricane force winds will extend far from the center of circulation.”

If Hurricane Irma churns northward over the Florida peninsula, the water in Lake Okeechobee could impact flooding downstream.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking precautions by drawing down water levels ahead of the storm, and they’ll be watching closely once it passes. Engineers are inspecting the Herbert Hoover Dike, and will inspect again once the water levels approach 17 feet. The lake level is currently less than 14 feet.

The South Florida Water Management District also has begun lowering water levels in canals, trying to move as much water as possible through flood control structures in preparation for the storm.

Potential Evacuees Uncertain

Updated: 2:51 p.m. — Associated Press

People in Florida are getting mixed messages on whether and when to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Broward County has just ordered coastal evacuations, mandatory but with no enforcement, as is typical in Florida. Miami Beach has advised evacuating, but not made it mandatory.

Miami-Dade County says it may start ordering evacuations today, but has not done so yet. And Florida Gov. Rick Scott says anyone who intends to evacuate should “get out now.”

However, with a storm track forecast up the middle of the state, it is unclear to many people where they should go.

Hospitals Prep For Irma

Updated: 1:22 p.m. — Abe Aboraya

Orlando Health is beginning emergency operations for Hurricane Irma.

The hospital is bringing in supplies like plywood, sandbags, food and water, as well as medical supplies. Orlando Health Emergency Preparedness Manager Eric Alberts said they are preparing for possibly getting more patients.

“There could be hospitals that are severely impacted down south that they may have to evacuate, as opposed to the preparedness evacuations ahead of time,” Alberts said. “And that’s no different than what happened in Harvey in Texas, where some of the hospitals sustained major damage and had to evacuate patients.”

Alberts said the system is taking the storm seriously, and is at a Level 1 activation of its Emergency Operations Center. Orlando Health is also seeing who is available from the 2,700 people who signed up for the Hospital Emergency Response Team.

“Once we go on lockdown from or for the storm, we would actually keep everyone here here throughout the duration of the storm,” Alberts said.

Orlando Health is the parent of Orlando Regional Medical Center, the Level 1 trauma center in Central Florida.

Getting Supplies To Florida

Updated: 12:56 p.m. — Associated Press

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says the state is working to get gasoline to areas experiencing shortages in advance of Hurricane Irma. Scott announced in Miami that he’s asked the governors of Alabama and Georgia to waive trucking regulations so tankers can get fuel into

He told residents of the Florida Keys that “we’re doing everything to get fuel to you as quickly as possible.” Tourists are under a mandatory evacuation order, which began Wednesday morning.

Residents will then be ordered to evacuate, but many gas stations across southern Florida are experiencing shortages.

Scott said, “we will get you out.” But he’s urging people to move quickly if they plan on evacuating, calling Irma a “life-threatening storm.”

“Do not sit and wait for this storm to come,” Scott said. “Get out now.”

Florida Keys Brace For Storm

Update: 11:18 a.m.

Irma is now navigating through the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles, and is likely to fluctuate some in intensity over the next couple of days as it nears the larger islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. T

here has been a notable shift in the forecast data beyond Friday, with a tendency to show Irma making a turn toward the east coast of Florida.

“It’s incredibly important to remember that we are still likely to see significant changes to the track forecast as it relates to Florida,” said Florida Storms’ Jeff Huffman. He said the average error on either side of the official forecast from the National Hurricane Center is around 200 miles at day four and five.

Officials in the island Florida Keys are expected to announce evacuations as Hurricane Irma moves west through the Caribbean toward the state and they expect to announce a mandatory evacuation for visitors starting Wednesday and for residents starting Thursday.

The Category 5 hurricane is expected to reach Florida by the weekend.

People in South Florida raided store shelves, buying up water and other hurricane supplies. Long lines formed at gas stations and people pulled shutters out of storage and put up plywood to protect their homes and businesses.

Gov. Rick Scott is urging residents in every part of the state to prepare for Hurricane Irma.

“Get prepared. This is your responsibility. Know your evacuation zone, listen to your locals,” said Scott. “This storm has potential to devastate our state and you have to take this very seriously.”

Power companies are pre-positioning crews across Florida, and the state is doing everything possible to get as much gas quickly to the pumps, said Scott.

Scott is activating National Guard across Florida and all 6,000  members will report for duty by Friday.

The WMFE News Team & Associated Press contributed to this report. This is a breaking news event, check back for updates. 

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Intersection' Producer

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts "Are We There Yet?", WMFE's space exploration podcast He also helps produce WMFE's twice-weekly public affairs show "Intersection," working with host Matthew Peddie to shape the ... Read Full Bio »