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Pinellas County declares state of local emergency for Eta

Margie Manning

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climate change

Pinellas County is under a state of local emergency as what is now Hurricane Eta approaches Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The storm presents a serious threat to residents and property in Pinellas County, Barry Burton, county administrator, told the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners Wednesday morning, just before the commission approved a resolution declaring the state of local emergency.

Separately, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman also declared a state of local emergency.

The county is not ordering any mandatory evacuations, but it is opening two shelters for anyone who feels unsafe in their own home, said Cathy Perkins, emergency management director.

She expects tropical storm force winds to arrive at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Because the storm is fast-moving, she expects the storm to be out of the area by early Thursday morning. The county could see high winds and two to four inches of rain. Storm surge could be three to five feet. Lakes and streams have been lowered in preparation, Perkins said.

The two shelters that open will have the capacity to serve people with special needs as well as people with pets. The shelters are at:

  • Ross Norton Recreation Complex (1426 S. Martin Luther King Jr Ave. Clearwater, FL 33756)
  • Lealman Exchange (5175 45th St N, St. Petersburg, FL 33714) 

There will be rapid Covid-19 tests at the shelters. Perkins said there are alternative locations for anyone who tests positive. There’s expanded space in the shelters to allow for social distancing. Masks and hand sanitizer are in place and there will be extra cleaning, she said.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office will be out early Thursday to check for damages, said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

“One of the things that concerns us is losing power, traffic lights and what happens at the intersections,” he said.

His office will doing damage assessments early Thursday.

“I don’t anticipate any road closures, or closures of access to the beaches or barrier islands, unless the damage warrants closing,” he said.

The Sheriff’s office normally pulls its officers off the streets when winds hit 50 miles an hour, and will do that, he said. But because there has not been time to order mandatory evacuations, the office will “liberally” respond to calls if needed.

The hard-to-predict path of the storm has made this situation unusual, Perkins said.

“This has been a tricky one for us, but emergency management and all its partners have been meeting since last Friday in looking at how we can address this storm,” Perkins said. “We’ve been planning, we’ve been preparing, we’re ready for this. We need you to do your part.”

All Pinellas County buildings will be closed Thursday and resume normal operations on Friday, Burton said. A Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners meeting scheduled for Thursday was postponed until Friday.

A St. Petersburg City Council meeting scheduled for tomorrow also has been cancelled.

In addition, all recreation facilities, including recreation centers and pools, will be closed and programming, including childcare and fee classes, will be canceled as of 2 p.m. Wednesday and will remain closed tomorrow, the city said.

Pinellas County’s Covid-19 test site at Tropicana Field is closed Wednesday.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is suspending service starting at noon Wednesday. PSTA said it will resume service as soon as it is deemed safe after the storm passes.

Pinellas County schools opened on Wednesday, but sent students home early.

The city currently has a stock of 1,300 pre-made sandbags at the Pavement and Traffic Operations Building, 1744 9th Ave. North, that can be picked up this afternoon starting at 3:30 p.m. Residents must provide proof of residence (such as a driver’s license) to receive sandbags.

Tampa International Airport will suspend all operations beginning at 3 p.m. today.

The St. Petersburg Pier will be closed beginning at 2 p.m. and will remain closed tomorrow. 

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