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Mayor: Despite shifting track, remain vigilant

Mark Parker



In addition to urging residents to remain vigilant, Mayor Ken Welch relayed that he spoke with President Joe Biden and FEMA officials Tuesday afternoon. Screengrab.

Despite forecasting models now predicting Hurricane Ian will come onshore in Sarasota County late Wednesday, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is urging residents not to let their guard down.

During a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Welch also relayed that he spoke with President Joe Biden and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who both pledged their support. However, the focus of the discussion was the importance of remaining vigilant despite Ian tracking further south.

Welch said that St. Petersburg remains in the “cone of uncertainty” and urged residents not to focus on the center of the track.

“While we are hopeful that the current southward trend will lessen our impact, this is still a huge storm that could still bring damaging weather to our city,” said Welch. “Even if it makes landfall further to the south.”

The threat of winds over 100 mph, powerful storm surge and flooding rains persist, added Welch – as does the potential for tornadoes. He also noted the unpredictability of storms, as evidenced by Ian’s shifting track.

Welch said that “at any given time,” the storm’s path could push back to the west, placing residents directly in the eye’s path. He urged those under evacuation orders to find a safe place to stay Tuesday night before conditions deteriorate.

“As Governor (Ron) DeSantis stated in our press conference yesterday, ‘you don’t need to go to Georgia,’” said Welch. “You just need to get to higher ground in a non-evac zone with your storm kit and supplies.”

Welch credited city employees for working around the clock to prepare for the hurricane and said they would quickly restore interrupted services following its passing. He also said the city would rebuild with resiliency.

Amber Boulding, emergency manager for St. Petersburg, said that as someone living in a low-lying area, she understood some residents might breathe easier following the latest forecast models.

“I want to let you know that now is not the time to let your guard down,” she added. “We’re not out of the woods.”

Boulding also expressed concerns that an approaching cold front colliding with the hurricane could cause tornadoes. She asked residents not to overlook what is still “a very serious situation.”

Forecasters expect Ian’s movement to slow as it approaches the coast, relayed Boulding, which could exacerbate impacts.

“Again, we urge you to please use the remainder of today to prepare your family,” she said. “Prepare your pets for the long haul.”

Welch told reporters that federal and state agencies are pre-positioning supplies, and that both U.S. Senator Rick Scott and Rep. Charlie Crist have reached out to offer support.

Boulding added that city officials are also working closely with their Pinellas County counterparts to address potential “issues and gaps.”

Mike Jefferis, leisure services administrator, noted that contracts are in place for debris management.

“We also have contracts in place for monitoring services so that we can get the fullest reimbursement,” said Jefferis. “While being efficient and effective in returning the streets of St. Pete back to the beautiful streets that they are pre-storm.”



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