Hurricane Michael is approaching the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend as a Category-3 monster, with landfall expected (Wednesday). WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports last-minute preparations were being made Tuesday, including mandatory evacuations as far west as Pensacola.
The Escambia County Emergency Operations Center spent Tuesday at Level-2 – or partial activation – tracking Michael’s trek through the Gulf of Mexico.
Residents in Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key and low-lying areas – the so-called Zone-A -- were ordered out at noon Tuesday. Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson is expecting visitors as well.
“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.
Three shelters are opening in Escambia, at the Pensacola Bay Center on E Gregory St. for general population and special needs; Escambia County Equestrian Center on Mobile Highway for horses with a current Coggins test permit, and at Molino Elementary School on Highway 97 – also pet-friendly.
In Santa Rosa County, the Milton Community Center on Byrom Street will provide a pet-friendly, special-needs shelter.
Evacuees and other travelers in the Panhandle can expect heavy traffic and snarls in some spots. Even more so, says Robinson, when bridges begin closing.
“The bridges will be closed when sustained winds hit 40 mph,” Robinson says. “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 the western Panhandle will also see effects.
“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.”
Utilities have been gearing up the past few days, ready to move in and begin restoring services brought down by Michael. Jeff Rogers at Gulf Power Company says this isn’t their first rodeo, but….
“We haven’t had one like this in quite some time; and it’s going to cause widespread power outages,” said Jeff Rogers at Gulf Power. “The Panama City area will be hit the hardest now, according to the latest forecast. They may see power outages that last up to a week or more with the strength of the storm that’s coming in.”
About 15,000 workers lined up by Gulf Power, Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light and public utilities are positioned to respond to anticipated widespread outages. While the attention is trained on the eastern Panhandle/Big Bend area, Rogers says the Pensacola/Fort Walton Beach area won’t be totally spared.
“We can expect tropical storm-force winds as well and for seven hours straight in the Pensacola area,” Rogers says. “Winds in excess of 30 mph, which can cause significant damage. The good news is that we’ve been preparing, staging resources and materials and crews to get ready for this.”
At least two thousand additional crew members from utilities throughout the South and as far away as Texas, Nebraska and Indiana are also ready if needed.
“They are coming from all over the U.S. to come and help; not just us, but other energy providers that may be impacted as well,” says Rogers. “This is a significant storm; it’s going to wreak havoc along its path as it travels upward into land through Georgia and so on. Something to definitely be ready for.”
A Citizen Information Line is open 24 hours a day until further notice, at 850-471-6600. Additional information is available at your county website.