Town of Fort Myers Beach calls for voluntary evacuations
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council declared a local state of emergency for the town and recommended voluntary evacuations in advance of Hurricane Irma Wednesday.
Although the exact path of the currently Category 5 hurricane has not been forecasted, it is likely to affect Florida. The council issued the state of emergency and laid out some policies and procedures for town residents and businesses at an emergency meeting.
Beginning immediately, there will be a daily press conference at 2:30 p.m.to update residents and businesses about the state of the storm preparation.
No mandatory evacuations have been issued yet; that decision is made by Lee County Emergency Management. The Town of Fort Myers Beach is recommending voluntary evacuation. Bay Oaks Recreational Campus and Pool, The Mound House and Newton Beach Park will be closed Thursday. The mayor asked for a voluntary evacuation of the town’s mooring field.
All beach vendors must have all equipment removed by noon Friday; construction sites must be secured by Friday at noon, including removing Dumpsters or securing them so debris can not become air born.
All residents should have an updated re-entry pass; a red pass is out of date. A purple residential pass is good for this year. Businesses can have up to three passes and they should be yellow to be valid for this year’s re-entry. Mayor Dennis Boback suggested everyone have a back-up form of identification in case their pass is out of date or they needed additional proof to return to the island in case of evacuation.
Their biggest message was that this time, people shouldn’t hesitate to evacuate because they are concerned about being able to get back to their homes.
“Everyone remembers Charley and the trouble getting back on,” Boback said. “This is not going to be a repeat of Charley, I hope you keep that at heart.”
If evacuation occurs, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, Town Manager Roger Hernstadt and Boback will return to the island to do any immediate safety assessment and make sure there are no live power lines in the water. Then, the Sheriff’s Office will begin letting residents and businesses with re-entry passes back onto the island.
Boback encouraged everyone to evacuate, especially if mandated.
“If you stay here, you will be on your own,” he warned. “You need to be prepared. My advice is to leave.”
Fire Chief Matt Love reiterated the importance of people understanding that in a disaster situation, emergency services cannot be guaranteed.
Fire trucks cannot cross the bridge once winds reach more than 40 mph, he said, as the vehicles are at risk from the wind.
“It’s important to understand, if 911 is not available, we can’t get to you,” he said.
The fire department has a layered approach to returning to the island. Right now, he’s focused on his firefighters attending to their families.
“We’re trying to make sure their families are safe so the Fort Myers Beach fire fighters can get back to work,” he said. “Remember, they have families too.”
Should the storm hit, the town will set up “over-the-counter” permits to help facilitate the rebuilding process, Hernstadt said.
The town has set up a sand bagging station behind Town Hall at 2525 Estero Boulevard for those who want to start preparing their homes now.
If a mandatory evacuation is issued by the county, residents can be notified by the CodeRed app, available for smart phones and email alerts; the town website; town press conferences; and local media stations and newspapers.
All advisory board meetings have been postponed; however the Town Council will still hold its first budget hearing Thursday, Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m.