OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee emergency officials are watching and preparing for Tropical Storm Erika, which is expected to approach the east coast of Florida Sunday night or early Monday morning.
As of press time on Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center, Erika had 45 mph winds with gusts up to 65 mph.
Okeechobee Emergency Management Director Mich Smeykal said there are so many factors involved with this storm system that it is difficult for the NHC to make forecast predictions on this one. The storm could gain energy due to the warm ocean water. It could fall apart.
“It’s a waiting game,” he said.
Okeechobee area residents are advised to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Families should have food, water, medicine and other supplies to last at least 72 hours, he said.
If the storm strengthens and continues its path toward South Florida, Okeechobee County will open emergency shelters.
Mr. Smeykal said if they open shelters, it won’t be until Sunday. He explained if shelters are needed, they will open one regular shelter and one special needs shelter to start, and then open more as demand requires.
“Typically, with tropical storms or even Category 1 hurricanes, we don’t see a lot of people needing shelters,” he said.
Okeechobee County school officials will meet Friday to determine if school will be open Monday. Criteria used for school closings are in part based on predicted wind speed and whether or not it is safe to run the school buses. An announcement will be made Friday in regard to the decision on school closings. For updates, see Okeechobeenews.net or the Okeechobee News Facebook page.
For more on preparing for storms and other emergencies, see the Okeechobee Emergency Operations Center website at www.okeechobeeeoc.com.
Corps prepares for Erika
As Tropical Storm Erika makes its way through the Caribbean islands, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District is preparing for the event and providing information to boaters and campers on changes that may take place at navigation locks and recreation facilities.
Jacksonville District activated its emergency operations center (EOC) Thursday at 1 p.m.
This action allows district staff to devote added attention to the potential response actions should Erika impact Florida.
“Our staff is coordinating with state and local officials,” said Jim Jeffords, chief of Jacksonville District’s Operations Division. “We will staff our EOC over the weekend, and dispatch liaison officers to the state EOC and other locations as appropriate.”
Jacksonville District staff are taking the following actions:
• Notifying boaters that the Corps will suspend operations at navigation locks on the Okeechobee Waterway and Port Canaveral whenever lightning is in the area, or when winds exceed 35 mph. The Corps will also suspend operations when a tropical storm is within eight hours of making landfall in south Florida.
• For campers and visitors to recreation sites, Jacksonville District park rangers will monitor conditions in their respective areas. If a county government containing a Corps campground/recreational facility issues an evacuation order that covers mobile homes or RV parks, rangers will order an evacuation of the facility and provide advice on shelter locations. Visitors should remove all motor homes, tents, vessels, and trailers if ordered to evacuate.
• Field staff continue to monitor Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee. The water level in the lake is much lower this year when compared to 2013 and 2014. However, significant rain on the lake or in the Kissimmee basin to the north could cause a rapid rise in the lake over the coming weeks. The current lake stage is 12.68 feet, which is in the lower end of the Corps’ preferred range of 12.5-15.5 feet.
• Water controls structures at Lake Okeechobee will be closed over the weekend. Runoff from rains in the St. Lucie Canal basin (C-44) will be allowed to pass through the St. Lucie Lock & Dam (S-80) near Stuart. Runoff from rains in the Caloosahatchee River basin (C-43) will be allowed to pass through the W.P. Franklin Lock & Dam (S-79) near Fort Myers.
More information on Jacksonville District response actions can be found at www.saj.usace.army.mil.
Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org