SARASOTA (FOX 13) - “First responders can not help you,” was the message from Sarasota County Emergency Operations Chief Ed McCrane Sunday evening, as the county began to feel the first effects of Hurricane Irma’s wind field.
McCrane says the county is experiencing 45 mile-per-hour sustained winds, which is the threshold for when it becomes too dangerous for first responders to be on the road.
“This is why it was so critical to evacuate when we asked you to earlier,” McCrane said. “We hope everyone heeded our warning and those who did not are in a safe place.”
More than 16,000 people had sought safety at public shelters in Sarasota County by Sunday evening. Each shelter has TWO paramedics assigned to it to handle any emergencies that arise.
For those riding it out at home, 911 operators are still taking calls and can help guide callers through emergencies. Once the storm passes and sustained winds fall below 45 miles-per-hour, paramedics and fire-rescue crews will respond to those calls, which will be ranked in priority by how serious the emergency is.
Hurricane Irma made landfall at 3:35 Saturday afternoon at Marco Island, about 140 miles South of Sarasota. It was a Category 3 storm, with wind gusts of 130 mph as it crawled ashore.
Irma weakened to a Category 2 storm Saturday evening but remained a powerful hurricane as it churned north.
McCrane said Sarasota residents will experience deteriorating weather conditions throughout the night. He expected winds to reach 75 to 90 miles per hour around 8 p.m. He said wind gusts up to 115 miles per hour would be possible around 2 a.m. Conditions will slowly improve with the worst of it over by daybreak.
He warned residents to prepare for power outages by charging their cell phones and keeping their flashlights nearby. McCrane said FP&L crews will try to restore power as quickly as possible, “but as long as these winds are raging they cannot get anywhere near those power lines.”
More than 34,000 Sarasota County residents had already lost power by Sunday evening.
Sarasota public schools will remain closed Monday and Tuesday.