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Hurricane Irene passes, but island was prepared

By Staff | Aug 24, 2011

While Hurricane Irene may indeed have a significant impact on the United States over the next few days, expected to make landfall as a Category 3 storm somewhere between the Carolinas and Virginia coastline, it’s project path towards Southwest Florida was mercifully averted.

Over the weekend, weather forecasters had predicted Irene heading directly towards the Sunshine State. Here on Sanibel, having just passed the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Charley a week earlier, islanders began making preparations, stocking up on emergency supplies and keeping an eye on weather forecasts both online and on television.

“This time of year, we’re always in our ‘ready’ mode,” said Judie Zimomra, Sanibel’s City Manager. “We were monitoring this storm very closely. We also sent out a reminder to our residents to have their Hurricane Hangtag Passes packed in their vehicles.”

The city-issued alert requested that all residents, property owners, business owners, property managers and their essential personnel inventory their current year Hurricane Hangtag Passes – pink for residential and green for commercial – and to visit the Sanibel Police Department with proper identification and documentation of residency immediately to obtain them.

“As we all know, community cooperation is still the key in hurricane preparedness and keeping the number of vehicles on the Islands after a hurricane to a minimum is essential to recovery efforts,” the alert read, in part.

As of 2 p.m. on Monday, forecasters announced that the projected path of Irene would track east of Florida, remaining over the Atlantic Ocean.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that officials and residents from Florida to the Carolinas stocked up on supplies and readied for the worst. Irene is the first hurricane to threaten the United States in three years.

Federal officials warned the storm could flood streets and knock down power lines as far north as New England. It remains possible that Irene will make landfall over the North Carolina coast, then move to the north into the Chesapeake Bay sometime on Sunday. However, because such projections can be uncertain, it’s also possible the storm could straddle the coast.

Islanders are well aware of the importance of making preparations in advance of any storm projected to impact the region.

The biggest concerns if a hurricane hits Sanibel or Captiva are storm surge, wind damage and large amounts of rainfall. Because the islands are primarily flat, storm surge of any amount would cause significant problems.

“The likelihood of a large storm surge here is low, but the likelihood of storm surge here is high,” said Dave Roberts, the City of Sanibel’s official weather consultant. “The good thing for Sanibel is when it comes to the peak for hurricanes, September is the peak month. September is the month you’ve got to keep your eye on.”

Gerald Campbell, planning chief at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center, stated that during any category hurricane, it is best to find a safer place to stay.

“There is not any such place as a safe place in a hurricane,” said Campbell. “No place is absolutely safe.”