Even as area governments expanded their evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Ian, Tampa Bay area shelters seemed slow to fill up on Tuesday. But the early arrivals were happy to be in their places as they settled in gyms and classrooms – their home for the next couple of days.
Some dispatches from the shelter floors:
Largo High: dogs, cats, one chinchilla
Cathy Bianca and Paul Granger moved to Largo eight months ago from New York, and settled in a mobile home for their retirement. They drove to the Largo High Shelter this morning in dismay.
“I don’t expect there will be much left when we return,” Bianca said.
The couple will sleep on blankets in the gym. They brought their two cats in crates to the animal area of the school locker room and back to the parking lot to buy a cigarette. “We saw mattresses there and thought these people were Florida natives,” Bianca said. “We are not used to this.”
She said they took suitcases of clothes with them but had to leave “60 years of photos.” “It’s terrifying to think we could lose everything and have just arrived in Florida.”
But they were grateful for the shelter, which Bianca described as “very convenient.”
Erlene Schwetzner, 71, was more relaxed after evacuating her Clearwater home.
“There’s nothing I can do about it… if I lose it, I lose it,” she said. “Some people think their home is more important than who they are.”
She and her husband will sleep on an inflatable mattress in the gym and listen to jazz music.
The animals are kept in the locker rooms of Largo High, one of the Three pet friendly shelters in Pinellas County.
The county had extra boxes left over from Hurricane Irma in 2017 for people who forgot to bring one. On Tuesday afternoon, Animal Services findings coordinator Casey Hollingsworth said the shelter housed two rabbits, two goldfish, 37 cats, 40 dogs and a chinchilla.
Four of those cats — Scamp, Fritzy, Dennis, and Scooter — belong to Patrick Burns. In 2017 during Irma, he turned to Oak Grove Middle in Clearwater. Scamp escaped his cage while walking indoors before the storm and was lost for three months. Finally, a neighbor spotted it from a missing poster that Patrick had made.
Animal Services has a system: more aggressive dogs are in crates in bathroom stalls while cold dogs are in crates in the locker room aisle.
“This is a benefit of crate training your dog,” Hollingsworth said.
Owners can take their dogs out for walks whenever they want, until dark.
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, officials said, nearly 2,200 people had registered to access shelters via Pinellas.
“God bless you,” Carol Smerker said while Sandra Singletary recorded her at Largo High with two cats.
Lockhart Primary School: Fort
Shelter use was minimal at Lockhart Elementary School in East Tampa, one of more than 40 schools in Hillsborough that began accepting residents on Monday afternoon.
Among the first entrants were Damon Porter, a lawn care worker, and Brittany Klein, who does not work in the disability business.
Porter said he came to the shelter with his 73-year-old sister and mother from a factory house that might not withstand hurricane winds and a train.
“I’m fine,” Porter said. “I’m here mostly for the welfare of my mother and sister, not to take a chance.”
Klein recently came to Tampa from California to be with her daughter. But she said, there was a rift between them. “I just want her to be safe,” Klein said.
Lockhart principal Natalie Korsaniko said she expects more residents as the storm approaches.
They will include Corsanico’s husband and infant daughter, who will take shelter with her when the storm hits. She said, “This place is a fortress.”
Corsanico, the school’s principal since 2021, said she’s fortunate to have help from two other principals in East Tampa: Sharon Waite of Potter Elementary and Emily Terelli of DeSoto Elementary.
She said more than 15 other school staff have volunteered.
Sunlake High: Overcoming the odds
Shelters at Pasco County schools were not yet experiencing foot traffic by midday Tuesday, with fewer than two dozen evacuees at many of the 10 locations. Fivay High School in Hudson, which is close to an area that regularly experiences heavy floods, had numbers close to 100.
At Sunlake High in Land O’Lakes, 14 residents, two dogs, and a cat occupied a space within the gym and shelter classrooms. The county government and school district staff outnumbered the visitors, as they braced for an expected surge in arrivals as Hurricane Ian intensified and moved closer to the coast.
Katie McKelle, 65, from Odessa, said she didn’t want to wait for the storm to hit her. Living on a canal in a motorhome, she knows the odds weren’t necessarily in her favour, even if the hurricane’s outer bands were just passing through.
“Why do I stay home alone when I can come here?” said McCell, who has recounted escaping five hurricanes during her lifetime. “They make great meals three times a day,” she added, while the electricity in the house is likely to go out. “It’s a great place to be during a storm.”
Shelter staff said Ian’s preparation benefited from experiences five years ago, when Hurricane Irma passed.
For example, they put families with pets near their animals, and they have separate areas for large families and singles. They also had food available for evacuees during the height of the storm, rather than making it all centered in the cafeteria.
“I feel more prepared,” said Rebecca Jark, Sunlake’s acting director, who oversaw the operations. “We learned many lessons from Irma.”
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2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
How to talk to children about a hurricane: A mental health expert at the school says to let them know what’s going on, maintain a routine and keep calm.
What to expect at the shelter: What to bring – and not to bring – as well as information about pets, maintaining their civility and more.
Protect your home: Storms and property damage go hand in hand. Here’s how to prepare.
It’s storm season: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.
The growing threat: It will flood Tampa Bay. Here’s how to prepare.
Double check: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits
phone at: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.
Self care Protect your mental health during a hurricane.
• • •
Part 3: Tampa Bay has enormous flood risks. What should we do about it?
Interactive map: Research the Tampa Bay neighborhood for hurricane flood risks.
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