Hurricane Michael is approaching the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend as a Category-3 storm, with top winds of 110 miles an hour and landfall expected on Wednesday. Preparations are underway — including mandatory evacuations — as far west as Pensacola.
Residents in Escambia County’s Zone-A — Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key, and low-lying areas — were ordered out at noon Tuesday.
“If you’re under an evacuation order, listen to it – don’t wait,” said Gov. Rick Scott, speaking Monday at the Escambia Operations Center.
“I know evacuations are not fun and they’re inconvenient; but in Florida, there are so many people ready to help you, and there’s no excuse not to keep your family safe,” said Scott. “Keep your kids safe; keep your pets safe, do not wait. [Michael] could speed up and start impacting us significantly [Tuesday] night. Making decisions [Tuesday] could be too late.”
“This is not rocket science, folks; we’ve done this time and time and time again,” said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan. “Follow directions, you know when to evacuate and that’s when you’re told to evacuate,”
“There will come a point in time in the disaster where we shelter in place; meaning all first responders are not allowed to respond; that’s the most dangerous time,” Morgan continued. “So if you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house, or storm surge catches you, there’s no one that can respond to help you.”
Morgan says by late tonight, they should have more definitive information on the storm and how it could impact this area – which likely will affect some people’s decision on whether to stay or go.
“By that time if you’ve decided to stay, make sure your car is full of gas; you have all your belongings, your important documents, your family, your animals, etc., and be prepared to leave,” said Morgan. “Be prepared to be frustrated; if you wait that long, there’s going to be backup on the Interstate.”
Three shelters are opening in Escambia, at the Pensacola Bay Center on East Gregory Street for the general population and special needs; the Escambia County Equestrian Center on Mobile Highway for Horses with a current Coggins test certificate only, and a pet-friendly shelter at Molino Elementary School on Highway 97.
“We plan not only to house our own Escambia County people, but we do expect support for those counties further east of here that we continue to hear are trying to move their people out of the way,” said Robinson.
In Santa Rosa County, the Milton Community Center on Byrom Street will provide shelter – pet friendly and equipped for special needs residents.
Evacuees and other travelers in the Panhandle is can expect heavy traffic and snarls in some areas. Even more so when the area’s bridges begin closing.
“The bridges will be closed when sustained winds hit 40 mph,” Robinson says. “we do not know what time that will be, although likely will happen sometime in the early morning hours of Wednesday. So, if you need to make any preparations, you need to do that now and begin to figure out where you want to go.”
While Michael appears to be tracking to the east, with landfall projected between Apalachicola and Destin, Robinson says that doesn’t mean the western Panhandle won’t get something from the storm.
“We still have a very likely chance to see tropical storm-force winds, and there certainly could be wind damage that could occur in Escambia County,” Robinson says. “So we would ask you to get to your home, get to where you need to be.”
The Citizen Information Line is open 24 hours a day until further notice, at 850-471-6600. Additional information is available at your county’s website.