Hundreds flee to local shelters to ride out Irma

Current plan is to have the shelters operational at least through Monday evening.

Columbia County has had to open two additional storm shelters after more than 600 people scurried to the first six storm shelters initially opened by the county Saturday afternoon.

The county opened local storm shelters for evacuees and residents fleeing from Hurricane Irma Saturday and by mid-afternoon Sunday at least two of the shelters were at capacity.

"We currently have eight shelters active," said Paula Vann, public information officer for Columbia County Emergency Management.

Shelters are at Westside Elementary School, Richardson Community Center, Fort White High School, Richardson Sixth Grade Academy, Winfield Community Center, Deep Creek Community Center, Fort White Community Center and Pinemount Elementary School.

The Westside Elementary School shelter is a special needs facility and the Winfield Community shelter is a pet friendly storm shelter. Both were at capacity less than 24 hours after opening. 
Officials opened the Fort White Community Center as a second special needs shelter in the county and opened the shelter at the Deep Creek Community Center to handle the overflow created by the other two centers reaching capacity.

There are 605 people in Columbia County storm shelters, according to information from the Columbia County Emergency Operation Center on Sunday afternoon. Officials expect the number to increase in the coming hours.

"The numbers were not anticipated until it got later in the week. We knew we were going to need more shelters than we had. We didn't know how many people there would be, but this is more than we anticipated," Vann said.

The current plan is to have the shelters operational at least through Monday evening.

"We'll watch as the storm progresses to see if we need to keep them open into Tuesday," Vann said. "It will take people a little while where they're going."

The Richardson Community Center was the first county storm shelter to open and it opened Friday night. The other four shelters opened at 2 p.m. Saturday and the last two opened Sunday afternoon.

Vann said officials have reached out to local churches to serve as storm shelters if the number of people seeking shelters continues to increase.

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