Polk County hunkers down for Matthew

- As Hurricane Matthew gets closer and closer, Polk County is getting ready for gusty winds and bands of rain.

The Emergency Operations Center in Winter Haven is at Level One activation, the highest level there is.  Hotels are full of evacuees from the east coast, and locals are getting last-minute essentials to hopefully tide them over until the worst is over.

Finding gas at this late hour is difficult if not nearly impossible in some areas. Many stations are out. Others are running low.

“My work released us about noon, and I went to eight gas stations and no gas,” said Liliane Pikelhaizen.

After checking travel websites like Travelocity and Expedia, it seems hotel rooms at major chains are nowhere to be found in Polk.

Keith Apple and his wife headed to Polk from the east coast after they heard that they should evacuate.

“We didn’t want to take any chances,” Apple said. “We’re expecting a 15-foot storm surge there.”

Essentials like water, batteries and food that you don’t have to refrigerate were flying off store shelves. Hundreds of people stood in long lines at a Walmart in Auburndale with last minute purchases mid-day  Thursday.

By early Thursday night, Polk County had opened six shelters, including one in Bartow for people with special needs, and another for people with pets. Officials said they were ready to open more shelters if necessary.

Schools remain closed in Polk on Friday.

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