Palm Beach County officials on Friday night urged residents not to become complacent even though the latest forecast track for Hurricane Irma shows the monster storm shifting toward the state’s west coast.
“It is important for us to be vigilant,” Mayor Paulette Burdick said at a 7 p.m. press conference at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “At any time it could take a right-hand turn and come across the state and affect Palm Beach County.”
County Administrator Verdenia Baker echoed Burdick’s sentiments. “Do not become complacent and assume the worst is over because it’s tilted a little toward the west,” she said. “This storm has been extremely unpredictable.”
While county residents must be off the roads by 3 p.m. Saturday, when a countywide curfew takes effect, those who are living in unsafe areas or fragile homes still have time to check into a county shelter. Space is available at all 13 shelters except one at Independence Middle School in Jupiter, which is already at capacity, Baker said.
By Friday evening, 11,632 people were in county shelters, she said. Volunteers are still needed to staff them. Anyone interested in helping, should call the United Way volunteer hotline at 561-375-6621.
Residents of the Glades also still have time to catch shuttle buses to take them away from Hurricane Irma’s path. Buses will run from 7 to 9 a.m. from Lake Shore Middle School in Belle Glade and Pahokee Middle School. Some 800 residents took the shuttles on Friday. All were taken to Seminole Ridge and John I. Leonard high schools to wait out the storm.
When county officials on Thursday urged roughly 290,000 residents of mobile homes and coastal and low-lying areas to leave their homes, they included the western farming communities around Lake Okeechobee in the mandatory evacuation order.
With forecasters then predicting that Hurricane Irma would make a beeline for the lake as it tore through the state, Gov. Rick Scott became concerned that lake could overflow the Herbert Hoover dike that surrounds it, Baker said. The dike was built after thousands of Glades residents died in flood-waters after hurricanes in the 1920s.
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In addition to possible flooding, there was a recognition that many of the homes in the impoverished area couldn’t withstand a Category 4 or 5 storm and the residents needed to be brought to safety, Baker said.
The next 18 hours will include a series of lasts - the last bus, the last road trip, the last person to enter a shelter. The last airplane - a JetBlue flight is scheduled to take off from Palm Beach International Airport at 9:04 p.m. today. The terminal will close at 10 p.m.
Once the curfew goes into effect at 3 p.m., people face arrest if they are found on the roads, Baker said. People are to remain inside until county officials lift the curfew after the storm passes.
Baker urged residents to make their final preparations. “Don’t wait until the last minute,” she said.
- Forest Hill High School, 6901 Parker Ave, West Palm Beach
- West Gate Elementary School, 1545 Loxahatchee Dr, West Palm Beach
- Independence Middle School, 4001 Greenway Dr, Jupiter
- Palm Beach Central High School, 8499 Forest Hill Blvd, Wellington
- John I. Leonard High School, 4701 10th Ave N, Greenacres
- Park Vista High School, 7900 Jog Rd, Lake Worth
- Boynton Beach High School, Â 4975 Park Ridge Blvd, Boynton Beach
- Atlantic High School, 2455 W Atlantic Ave, Delray Beach
- Boca Raton High School, 1501 NW 15th Ct, Boca Raton
- West Boca Raton High School, 12811 Glades Rd, Boca Raton
- Palm Beach Gardens High School, 4245 Holly Dr, Palm Beach Gardens
- Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School, 1501 Avenue U, West Palm Beach
- Lake Shore Middle School, 425 W Canal St N, Belle Glade
- Seminole Ridge High School, Â 4601 Seminole Pratt Whitney Rd, Loxahatchee
- Pahokee High School, 900 Larrimore Rd, Pahokee