Hurricane remains on wobbly track toward north Florida

THIS STORY WILL BE KEPT UPDATED
According to an email from Vikki Mioduszewski with Baptist Medical, the Baptist Medical Nassau hospital emergency room closed at 1 p.m. Saturday. Baptist Nassau patients are being transferred to Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville. If you have a family member who has been hospitalized at Baptist Nassau, and the hospital hasn’t been able to contact you, please call 904.202.2000.

There is currently a 6 p.m. to 8  a.m. curfew in effect for the entire county, per Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper.

Florida Public Utilities customers should call (800) 427- 7712 to report outages. 

BillyEstep, emergency management director for Nassau County, said at a 3 p.m. news conference Saturday that he wants residents to continue to heed all evacuation orders despite Hurricane Irma’s shift to the west, because there is still an opportunity for the storm to intensify. Estep said they are expecting “up to 20 inches in certain areas.”

“We are monitoring the storm surge which may reach three to five feet in Nassau County. We will be monitoring it to see if there will be a shift within the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Estep said there is also an increase in the chance of tornadoes. Nassau County is under a hurricane watch and also a storm surge warning.

“We are being set-up for three types of events in Nassau County,” stated Estep. “A coastal event which would bring winds from the n’oreaster before the hurricane; the second is floods, and thirdly, west winds. So, there are a variation of possible impacts,” he added.

Mandatory evacuation orders continue for zones A,C,F, and manufactured homes. Baptist Hospital Nassau is officially closed. Residents in need of emergency care were encouraged to visit Baptist Hospital Jacksonville Campus or UF Shands in Jacksonville.

“We are surprised that our shelter population is just 216,” stated Estep. “The largest percentage of those inhabitants have special needs, but we have plenty of space. People living in manufactured homes in low lying areas need to seek shelter. We also remain available to be a safe-refuge shelter for people evacuating from South Florida and those on roadways,” he added.

“The big question in Nassau County remains: when will the bridges close?” added Estep. “The benchmark for bridge closing remains the monitoring of  tropical storm force winds; however, there may be periodic opening and closing based on wind shifts.”

The bridges from Amelia Island will be closed once winds reach sustained speeds of more than 39 mph,

Leeper encouraged residents to just be safe.

“Even though the storm has ticked to the west, we still can’t relax,” Leeper said.  “Find a safe place or a school shelter if you don’t have anywhere else to go. Just be safe.”

Congressman John Rutherford addressed the federal funding needed for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remain operating past Sept. 30.

“We in Congress just voted on a House Appropriations Bill of $15.5 billion,” said Rutherford. “All local, state, and national residents can be reassured there will be necessary funding to help them.”

State Sen. Aaron Bean saluted the men and women at the Emergency Operations Center.

“It has been a treat to see real professionals at work preparing Nassau County and doing their job,” said Bean. “Mother nature is so unpredictable. My thoughts and prayers are with you Nassau County, and South Florida too.”

Estep agreed with the senator’s encouragement by offering, “Keep praying, Nassau County, that this is a mild event for our area.”

“While Irma’s projected path has shifted slightly west, Nassau County Emergency Management officials (are moving) forward with evacuation plans from Zones A, and F and manufactured homes and shelter housing," said Nassau County Emergency Management’s spokesperson Dave Richardson in a news release at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Per the NCEMO’s news release, “Irma remains a major concern to the area from hurricane force winds, increased threat of tornadoes and a substantial increase in projected rainfall amounts. Estep and Leeper want to emphasize the need for local citizens to continue mandatory evacuations from Zones A, C and F and from manufactured homes and to update residents on the county’s preparations as Irma moves toward Florida.”

The Nassau County Emergency Operations Management Department can be reached at (904) 548-0900, on Facebook: NassauEM, and via Twitter: @NassauEM.

Call the Citizen Information Line if you need to verify that a public emergency shelter is open: (904) 548-0936. Transportation is being offered on Saturday and Sunday to get people to public emergency shelters. Go to www.fbnewsleader.com/news/nassau-county-shelter-evacuation-transportation to see the schedule.

According to an email from Vikki Mioduszewski with Baptist Medical, the Baptist Medical Nassau hospital emergency room closed at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“Baptist Beaches and Baptist Nassau are closed due to mandatory evacuation, the Nassau ER closed today at 1 p.m., and the Baptist Meaches ER will officially close at 5 p.m. (Saturday),” Mioduszewski wrote.

“At this time, patients hospitalized at Baptist Jacksonville, Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Baptist South are limited to no more than two visitors because these hospitals will not discharge patients after Sunday at 9 a.m. Visitors who are not staying with a patient will need to leave the hospital by 9 a.m. for everyone’s safety and to conserve limited supplies.”

The news release says that further updates are available at www.baptistjax.com or @twitter.com/baptisthealthjx

"Baptist Nassau patients are being transferred to Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville. All Baptist Health 24/7 freestanding Emergency Centers (Town Center, North and Clay) will remain open," the news release said.

“Hospital Command Center officers felt it was in our patients’ best interests to evacuate them to other Baptist locations so their medical conditions and safety would not be compromised. Hospital representatives are coordinating the evacuation with local emergency officials.

"Transfers will be completed under medical supervision to maintain continuity of care.

"If you have a family member who has been hospitalized at Baptist Beaches or Baptist Nassau, and the hospital hasn’t been able to contact you, please call 904.202.2000.”

Callahan Mayor Robert Rau informed the News-Leader Friday evening that all gas stations within the city of Callahan are out of fuel. According to Rau, gas will not be available until next Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Emergency services will continue on the island until the bridge closes, but Baptist Nassau hospital was not accepting new patients and transferring all current patients to Baptist Jacksonville. The emergency room was closed Saturday afternoon.

Billy Estep, director of emergency services, re-confirmed bridges will be monitored for wind speed. If winds reach a tropical storm sustained wind speed of 39 mph, both bridges will be closed.

Nassau County had not enacted any curfews as of Friday night.

 Mandatory evacuations began at 6 p.m. Friday for zones A, C, F, and residents living in manufactured homes.

“In the past 24 hours we’ve seen a significant shift to the west and in the next 24 to 36 hours it may shift back to the coast. Some forecast models have the storm coming back over the ocean and making an “S” turn,” said Billy Estep, director of emergency operations for Nassau County.

Estep advised residents to be “cautious with this thing” as the county continues the planning process because Nassau County is not out of the hurricane’s strike zone.

He also warned there are many gas shortages around the state so residents should be prepared for delays.

County Manager Shanea Jones said that one of the most misunderstood questions is when people must leave.

“Mandatory evacuation begins at six,” said Jones. “You do not have to be off the island at six o’clock, but don’t wait until the last minute, as we don’t want people to be bombarded.” All of Amelia Island is in Zone A.

Nassau County shelters that have been opened as of 2 p.m. Friday include Hilliard Middle-Senior High School (accommodates special needs and service animals), Hilliard Elementary School, Bryceville Elementary School, Callahan Intermediate School and Callahan Middle School (accommodates pets).

A full list of shelters with addresses can be found at this link: www.fbnewsleader.com/news/emergency-shelters-information. All shelters may not open. Call the EOC at 548-0900 before you go to confirm additional shelters are open.

Jones added that many area businesses have announced they will be closing between 4 and 5 p.m. Friday and are not planning to reopen until Tuesday, Sept. 12. This includes lumber and hardware stores, restaurants, and fast food.

Gil Langley, managing director of the tourism development council, offered updates on the hotel industry. “Hotels on the island will close at 12 noon on Saturday and re-open on Tuesday,” Langley said.

Estep issued a dire warning to residents who do not heed evacuation orders: “If you do not follow the evacuation orders, you are on your own,” he said, referring to plans for medical, police and fire-rescue service personnel to also evacuate from zones A, C, and F for the duration of the storm.

County Commissioner George Spicer told the News-Leader after Friday’s press conference that he believes the county has prepared as needed.

“This is the storm of all storms,” said Spicer. “We are all doing due diligence to keep everyone safe. I live in an area that is not a flood zone and I have a generator. I’m ready to keep my lights, fridge, and freezer on. This is like Matthew all over again.”

For Nassau County residents who do choose to evacuate, Master Sgt. Dylan Bryan of the Florida Highway Patrol urged travelers to “remain calm and be patient.”

There is no contra-flow or one-way operation in use on Florida’s interstate roadways at this time. It has been determined that contra-flow blocks essential southbound lanes needed to bring supplies to shelters and families, inhibits emergency vehicles from reaching people in need, and removes law enforcement from critical life safety tasks.

A media advisory from the Florida Department of Transporation on Friday afternoon announced limited emergency shoulder use on I-75 at Wildwood to the Georgia state line during the hurricane evacuation. Motorists are advised to only use the left shoulder when directed by law enforcement and highway signs. Right shoulder use remained prohibited.

FDOT reported 13 traffic management centers were monitoring traffic cameras to ensure traffic flows continue and evacuations proceed without interruption.

Bryan reminded residents during and after the storm to treat intersections where signals may be out as 4-way stops. Both Bryan and the Florida Division of Emergency Management urged motorists to call 511 for traffic updates.

Nassau County Emergency Management also has a Citizen Alerts system to warn the population about imminent or sudden hazards via phone, text message, e-mail, social media and mobile apps. To “opt in” and register for this system, participants must go to the Citizen Alerts website at nassaucountyfl.com.

Bryan suggested that citizens should call the Nassau County Emergency Operations Center at 548-0900 for information after the storm has passed on when it will be safe to return home. Residents can also go to the NCEO website at www.nassaucountyfl.com/eoc.

Baptist Medical Center Nassau will be transferring patients to the Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville campus. The transition will begin today through tomorrow morning. The Nassau facility anticipates the closure of the hospital will come sometime Saturday, with re-opening occurring after county officials provide the "all clear" and evaluation of the hospital is concluded.

The News-Leader also spoke with Laura DiBella, executive director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board and Port of Fernandina. DiBella said she will evacuate her island residence and remain at the emergency operations center (EOC) through the duration of the storm.

“I am responsible for maintaining business continuity,” said DiBella. “Most of my work will begin when the storm is over and that includes a mass coordination effort to communicate information.”

The Port of Fernandina is taking all of the necessary precautions and most of their storm preparation aligns with the Jacksonville Port Authority.

“Our port’s current status of operation is minimal and called XRAY and we will then move to YANKEE,” Dibella explained. “Our highest alert is Zulu which means, no one comes in, and no one comes out.”

Petty Officer Anthony Soto of the U.S. Coast Guard in Jacksonville reported, “After the storm, search and rescue will be our first priority followed by swift recovery of commercial shipping with re-opening of ports and waterways.” He continued, “Lanes and channels can shift during a storm. … Our second priority is to check and reposition buoys and markers to ensure waterway safety.”

Soto encouraged all boaters to stay off waterways until they receive word from the Coast Guard. Communication with the Coast Guard will continue through VHF channel 16 and through the Marine Safety Line at 714-7558.

Once the storm passes, the state has made preparations with the Florida National Guard to assist with recovery.

Will M.G. Manley of the Florida National Guard told the News-Leader that 7,000 Florida guardsmen have been activated and remain on standby for deployment to assist state agency personnel and local first responders throughout Florida.

“There is no game plan yet (as to where they will be deployed pending post-storm assessment by the Florida Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee),” Manley said.

Manley emphasized the state also has access to 30,0000 National Guard from other states, adding that two states had already committed complete infantry brigades to support the local guard. These two out-of-state units reportedly have trained together for just these circumstances.

Under state law the mission of the Florida National Guard is to provide protection of life and property and to preserve peace, order and public safety. Emergency relief support includes search and rescue missions, distribution of emergency supplies and policing as needed.

 

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