Central Florida shelters still have room for evacuees
Hundreds of people gather in an emergency shelter at the Miami-Dade County Fair Expo Center in Miami, Florida, September 8, 2017, ahead of Hurricane Irma. Florida Governor Rick Scott warned that all of the state's 20 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate as Hurricane Irma bears down for a direct hit on the southern US state. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)


Central Florida shelters have plenty of space as Hurricane Irma’s path shifted west and many residents have decided to weather the storm at home.

Only two of 18 Orange County shelters are full. Shelters at Apopka and Colonial high schools were the first to fill.

The gymnasium at Colonial High School was covered with inflatable mattresses, blankets and cots Sunday as 493 people filled the shelter. Officials said the shelter was full by 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Milagros Cruz packed up her two children Jafet, 7, and Faith, 2, and left her Orlando mobile home Saturday. Her husband is in the Army and stationed in Georgia and could not come home.

“When the governor gave the order, we decided to leave,” said Cruz, who joined her mother and sister and her four children at the shelter. “We wanted to be in a safe place for the kids.”

“I didn’t want to take any chances,” said Marihon Quintero, who lives in a modular home in Orlando. She packed inflatable mattresses, coloring books and Legos that her son, Christopher, found drew a crowd of new friends.

Terri Philips sat on a fold-up lawn chair surrounded by blankets, three jugs of water and a shopping bag with chips, tuna and artichoke hearts.

“I live on the top floor of an apartment with a flat roof,” said Philips. “The air conditioner is on the roof and I was afraid with the sustained winds that the A.C. or the roof wouldn’t make it.”

The Orlando woman said she will never forget driving with her family to a shelter in New Orleans during Hurricane Camille in 1969.

“My dad drove through blinding rain and over downed power lines to get us to safety,” she said. “That’s an experience you never forget and I didn’t want to wait until the last minute.”

The Salvation Army of Orlando opened its shelter to homeless women, children and men at 4 p.m. Saturday and all 250 spots were full by Sunday morning, said Tiffani Jett, spokesperson for the Salvation Army.

“We are standing with the City of Orlando to keep our most vulnerable population safe in the storm,” said Major Ted Morris, Salvation Army area commander.

Orange County fire and rescue officials have gone door-to-door at 124 mobile home communities and reached over 7,600 residents. Fifty percent said they are evacuating.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said that given the size of Hurricane Irma, “tornados are our greatest risk.” She urged residents to stay indoors following the storm until they hear it is safe to travel.

“The greatest casualties happen afterwards as people venture out on roads not realizing that we have power lines that may be down, or still active, hazards on the roads and signals not working,” Jacobs said.

Residents still have a few hours left to find shelter. Osceola County has 10 shelters, nine are open in Seminole County, 24 in Brevard and 23 in Volusia County.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management estimates that 6.3 million Floridians have been ordered to evacuate. There are 117,818 individuals in the state’s 489 shelters.

For a full listing of shelters and locations, go to:  floridadisaster.org/shelters/summary.aspx.

Orange and Seminole county officials have issued a mandatory curfew beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday and lasting until 6 p.m. Monday. Volusia County will have a curfew in effect from 9 p.m. Sunday to noon on Monday.

The curfews prohibit people from being on public streets, highways, parks or other public places. Exemptions include people in search of medical assistance or food, emergency personnel, medical professionals, and pharmacists.

Terry Roen

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.


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