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Mandatory evacuation issued for island

By Staff | Sep 7, 2017

The City of Sanibel has issued a mandatory evacuation for those using accommodations on the island as of 6 p.m. today, and for everyone else starting at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.

City Manager Judie Zimomra said today shortly before noon she was contacted by the county advising them that they were going to issue a mandatory evacuation for the barrier islands based on the current forecast. She said Mayor Kevin Ruane has been engaged over the last several hours to try and impact their initial plan, to make it more feasible and accommodating to the community, the island, the residents, businesses and visitors.

“This is a fluid situation that has taken the entire afternoon to broker this deal. In all fairness the county realized the magnitude and complexity of trying to clear a barrier island in a couple of hours. As a result to that we have come to an agreement,” Ruane said.

They came to a compromise at 2:54 p.m., he said, only minutes before Lee County released the information to the press.

Although the proclamation of the mandatory evacuation received a unanimous vote, there was some lengthy discussion, which started by Councilman Jason Maughan.

“I think this comes as a surprise to a lot of citizens who have carefully put together their preparations. I just want to make sure when we send people off of this island . . . one of the things that someone said is that we do evacuations when we know that it is more dangerous here then it is to where we are sending them. I’m not making a call one way or the other, I just want to make sure that it is considered at least before we have everyone scampering around this island like madmen. That we are saying to ourselves we have a better place to send you,” he said.

Maughan said he knows this evacuation was dumped on the city by the county and the city has done a “crackerjack job” setting up for this.

“I would feel awful if I had a line of cars leaving Sanibel that left a very good house and we had no idea of where we are sending them,” he said. “I have personal concerns.”

As part of the compromise, seven shelters have been opened up in Lee County, at the same time the mandatory evacuation goes into affect for residents, at 9 a.m. in the morning.

“I want everyone to be safe and that is our main intent today,” Ruane said.

He said the county wanted to have the mandatory evacuation take place at 4 p.m. today, before any shelters were to open.

“I insisted that we had seven shelters for people to go to and I couldn’t actually enforce this until the shelters were open,” Ruane said. “I wanted them to be open tonight, but they didn’t have the staff, nor the manpower and they won’t be stocked with food and supplies until tomorrow morning.”

He said it has been a difficult situation that the city has been dealt.

“I share your frustration a thousand percent,” Ruane said to Maughan.

At 40 mph sustained winds, individuals are not supposed to transit the Sanibel Causeway.

“At 40 miles per hour, the Causeway is not safe. If someone decides to stay on the island and the storm hits and they have some difficulties, a hard issue, they have to stay where they are until the storm is over because it is not safe for the emergency staff to go out and help them,” Vice Mayor Mick Denham said. “That is the reason why a mandatory evacuation is so important.”

Dalton said the history has shown that at 40 mph or above, when the first responders go out, it’s not a chance for them to get into trouble, it’s likely for them to get into trouble.

Ruane said he cannot force anyone to do anything, but he wants to remind people that if they choose to stay on the island and want to pick up the phone, and say “by the way I need help. I am not going to have the ability to help you. I want people to understand the magnitude of what is going on.”

Ruane said Hurricane Irma is an enormous storm.

“In hindsight I wish we started this process a few days ago,” he said.

Public transportation will be available, starting tomorrow, shortly after 9 a.m. at six sites on Sanibel. Buses will take individuals directly to shelters in Lee County. All bus stops are free tomorrow.

A curfew is also in effect during the mandatory evacuation from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

“At no point in time, if you are on the road will the chief arrest you. He won’t do anything other than pull you over and talk to you and give you the indication that you are not supposed to be on the road,” Ruane said. “I recognize people are here as tourist and I would like them to make the accommodations to start to get off the island. I recognize people here are certainly not as agile as they like to be and have not made appropriate plans.”

Chief of Police William Dalton said they somewhat expected this step in their Emergency Hurricane Plan because of the size of the storm.

“When the mayor was commenting on a mandatory evacuation and the curfew. Those things are in place to protect the citizens. In the 24 years I have been here we have never arrested a citizen for a curfew violation. Many times we have stopped someone, they weren’t aware of it, we educated them, resolved it and they go home,” he said. “Our efforts are going to be to have an orderly, timely evacuation because this is a dangerous storm and to take care of the community.”

The final resolution approved dealt with the prohibition of sale, possession and consumption of alcohol beverages, except at one’s own home during a mandatory evacuation.

“There are a couple reasons. One is that there is a history, especially in the state of Florida for people having hurricane parties, which often involve alcohol. The last thing that police want to do is to go into a group of people who are heavily influenced to try and convince them they should be evacuating. It’s a tool for the police to be dealing and interfacing with people under the influence when they should be making a decision,” Zimomra said. “If after the storm you have people making repairs and you have a lot of contractors and people on roofs, that is not a time that people should be under the influence. That doesn’t stop you from drinking in your home.”

Zimomra said as of 8 a.m. tomorrow, the temporary City Hall will be operated out of Crowne Plaza Hotel. She said City Hall on the island will be open tomorrow for emergency operations, and to take citizen phone calls.

Also tomorrow at 8 a.m. hurricane passes will also be occurring at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

“If you are a true procrastinator and you have yet to get a hurricane reentry pass you can get over to Crowne Plaza starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow and we will gladly accommodate you,” she said. “If you have your driver’s license that will accommodate you back on the island. You don’t have to have a hurricane pass.”

Garbage was also being picked up this evening, during the 5 p.m. meeting.

“We did have a lot of people that thought this would also be a good week to clean everything out of their garage in case it flooded. So we have had an extremely heavy collection day today, and it was already Labor Day weekend collection,” Zimomra said. “We plan to spend an entire day tomorrow to pick up garbage, recycling and horticulture waste.”

Three additional dumpsters have been added to the Sanibel Boat Ramp, and extra dumpsters at the Sanibel Recycling Center, across from the library. She said if they are overflowing, still leave the garbage there.

Tomorrow at noon, the City of Sanibel will begin their door-to-door notifications.

“One of the lessons that we learned after Hurricane Charley, even with our aggressive outreach is to special needs, we still had some people even after all of those efforts did not know we had a hurricane coming. We will be deploying our lifeguards, and some of our other nonessential personnel as of noon tomorrow going door-to-door being certain that if someone is still here they have a list of shelters and they are aware of where to go,” Zimomra said.

Also, today, the city has confirmed that an inspector, if for some reason the storm takes a bad wobble to the west, are here. They also confirmed with the county EOC that an engineer would be able to inspect the causeway if the winds became so high following the hurricane, to ensure it is safe to cross.

Council member Jim Jennings was excused from the meeting as he was already evacuating.


The city also called an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

“My simple words of advise is if you don’t need to be here and you have some other place to be please take that into consideration. There is a camera system set up FL511 throughout the state of Florida. You can certainly see what traffic looks like,” Ruane said. “There is no requirement for anyone to leave. I’m just giving you encouragement, if you have a brother, sister, aunt, or uncle, whatever in a different state and you have flexibility, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider that seriously. That would be my word of wisdom.”

He said they do not anticipate any evacuations yet.

“Our goal with this council is really about human safety, public safety and property safety,” he said.

In light of President Donald Trump declaring a preparatory state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, the governor declaring all 67 Florida counties under a state of emergency and the Lee County commissioners declaring a local state of emergency, the City of Sanibel also declared a local state of emergency during its Wednesday meeting.

Zimomra said that would help if there was a FEMA declaration on when they can start counting expenses, helps advise residents how important it is that they can have a potential emergency based on the direction the storm takes and where it lands and it gives them the option to have another 24 hours to continuously watch the storm very closely.

Before the meeting was held this afternoon, Zimomra said they had various meetings with each staff department for updates. A partners meeting was also held, she said, which packed City Hall.

“We are fully engaged in our emergency management plan execution,” she said.

If an emergency evacuation is declared, the city is fully prepared to move City Hall operations to the Bell Tower Crown Plaza.

“This storm is still a very large and dangerous storm. One way going the wrong way and we can be in a lot of harms way,” Dalton said, adding that they have initiated their Hurricane Action Plan, and taking initial steps within.

Public Works Director Keith Williams said their activation plan includes coordinating the solid waste disposal times associated with pick up times later this week, and rollout of solid waste facilities. He said two dumpsters will be rolled out to the boat ramp park beginning tomorrow for residents who wish to dispose of perishables when they head off the island if they are leaving.

Williams said the city’s fuel tanks have also been replenished. They have a supply that will allow them to carry on for three to four weeks.

The contractors, Williams said they have also been in contact with who are carrying out city projects on the island to button down their worksites and demode their equipment and leave the most safe environment for the citizens of the island.

Finance Department Director Steven Chaipel said yesterday they initiated their procedures, which allows them to be a little more flexible with securing information of the needs of the public and city. He said they also transferred some cash from their disaster reserves to the operating account.

Recreation Director Andrea Miller said the Recreation Center and Center for Life are operating under normal business hours. The after school activities, however she said are cancelled. She said they are currently working on buttoning down everything at the ball field complex.

Building Director Harold Law said as of tomorrow they will shut down applications and issuing permits. He said they are working on notifying the structural safety inspectors of pre-evacuation notices if needed.

Planning Director Jim Jordan said they have suspended all permits until further notice. He said they have also implemented removing all newspaper racks and boxes off of the street Wednesday morning.

Zimomra said anything in high winds that could potentially be a projectile, they city is working to either get them off the street, or off the island, or secured underneath a building under construction.

Ruane said last night he was on the phone with the governor, who has been very receptive to any of their needs. He said the governor has called several times to make sure they are fine.

“The League of Florida Mayors have been very proactive in doing so,” he said. “Water seems to be an issue. He assured that all supplies will be replenished in the next 24 hours. Gas seems to be an issue. We were out last night at the Speedway. I have a direct number to call. About an hour later there was gas.”

Ruane said if anyone has issues with gas, or water, feel free to give City Council a call and let them know, so they can communicate it to the governor’s office.

Sand bags, another item being sought, should be replenished Wednesday afternoon.

Ruane said water will be released from Lake Okeechobee east, west and south in preparation of the storm. He said if they were directly hit, it would go from 13 feet to 19 feet very quickly.

“We are doing everything proactively,” he said.

Natural Resources Director James Evans said based on the storm projections, the Army Corps of Engineers has moved forward with regulatory releases from the lake.

“They are looking to discharge water in all directions, to the east, west and south to get the lake level down to a level that can take some additional water,” Evans said.

The Natural Resource Department, he said are doing pre-storm beach inspections to look at the state of erosion, as well as looking at the beach facilities along the beach.

Evans said they are also working closely with the Public Works Department to look at when they can move out of the system to keep water levels within the Tarpon Bay Beach Road basins at a level where they will not flood.

The communication with all of the agencies, Ruane said has been overwhelming to say the least.

“The communication has been outstanding,” he said.

Zimomra said starting at 5:06 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, Hurricane Irma has been on the city’s radar. She said at that point it was 3,050 miles east of the Sanibel Causeway. Regular updates have been provided regarding the storm since then.

The City Clerk and City Attorney’s office have been working diligently, Zimomra said to prepare and draft a variety of legislation to be ready if the storm takes a turn for the island.

Hurricane Evacuation Passess were also discussed during the meeting.

She said it is very important that everyone understand that they would not keep someone once they reenter, if there is an evacuation, from their property once they return if they do not have a hurricane pass.

“The best analogy I have for a hurricane pass is if you have ever been to Disney and you have bought the Fast Pass. That’s your Fast Pass. When we go to reenter the island, in the past, it may not be Sanibel police officers at the toll booths. It may be a national guardsman, or a police officer on loan from Sunrise, Florida like they were the last time,” Zimomra said. “They don’t recognize every Sanibel resident. Your driver’s license with your address is sufficient to reenter the island. But, what we did learn is the amount of time it takes every person to get their driver’s license out takes time. If you have a hang tag and you have it visible, you get waved through.”

She said no one should panic if they do not have a pass.