Irma set to strike
Hurricane-force winds will reach Lake City Sunday night, according to the National Weather Service. Sustained winds of 75 mph with gusts up to 100 mph-plus are expected along with heavy rain and thunderstorms.
Hurricane conditions will continue throughout Monday with clearing on Tuesday. Forecasters expect 6-10 inches of rain locally.
Hotels in Lake City have been full for days as evacuees from points south pile in by the thousands to escape Irma’s wrath.
On Friday at the Shell gas station off State Road 47, cars were lined up all the way to the I-75 North exit to get gas. Families stopped to get gas, load up on snacks and drinks, let their pets out to go to the bathroom and do so themselves — the women’s bathroom line consistently had more than 20 people in it in the early afternoon.
One couple, Mary and Daniel Nuñez, had been driving 24 hours from Homestead, just west of Miami.
They said they had just gotten their own place. They’re not expecting to return to much.
“It was beautiful,” Mary said.
Alex Drexler is evacuating with his grandparents. They live in Lake Wales but came to Stuart, near Port St. Lucie, to pick him up.
Drexler just moved to Florida from Cincinnati, Ohio, about a month ago. When he heard talk of Hurricane Irma being as big as the state of Ohio, he knew what that meant.
“That’s why I kinda got scared and left,” he said. “I’m expecting catastrophic damage.”
As Hurricane Irma continues to shift its path, the expected damage in Columbia County is unknown, but could vary from downed trees to possible tornados.
“There’s still a long way to go, but I’m expecting downed trees and power lines down,” Columbia County Emergency Management Director Shayne Morgan said. “With the hurricane shifting to the west we have the potential, and I want to emphasize potential, that we could see tornadic activity.”
Should Hurricane Irma continue on its current path, Columbia County will face the strongest impact throughout Monday.
“We’ll start seeing impacts on Sunday night, but the biggest impact here will be between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday,” Morgan said. “Now, that may change based on the path of the storm.”
Emergency management is making preparations for both local residents and visitors seeking shelter after evacuating their homes. The Columbia County Emergency Operations Center was activated on Saturday and will be activated until the storm passes. The county has also opened six shelters:
- Richardson Community Center, 255 NE Coach Anders Lane, Lake City. (Note: Shelter only. No food, water or cots available. Bring your own bedding and food.)
- Westside Elementary School, 1956 Co. Rd. 252B, Lake City (Special need-only shelter).
- Fort White High School, 17828 FL-47, Fort White.
- Winfield Community Center, 1324 NW Winfield St., Lake City.
- Richardson Sixth Grade Academy, 646 SE Pennsylvania St., Lake City.
- Pinemount Elementary School, 324 SW Gabriel Place, Lake City.
County schools will be closed on Monday and Tuesday. They are expected to reopen Wednesday.