As Hurricane Irma closes in on Florida, and despite a slight shift, counties in the southwestern part of the state are bracing for impact.
Lee County Emergency Operations held a news conference Wednesday. Even though Irma has moved slightly to the east, Lee County Manager Rodger Desjarlais said southwest Floridians should still anticipate the brunt force because of the storm's size.
"This storm is as wide as the state of Florida is long," said Desjarlais. "So, this hurricane would have to shift way offshore into the Atlantic by hundreds of miles before we would be out of danger."
He said there's wind and tidal surges to contend with outside of the direct path.
Acting Director of Lee County's Emergency Management Lee Mayfield said too much is unknown about the storm to make a determination on mandatory evacuations and shelters. However, shelters for residents with special needs will open Thursday.
"As we get more specific impacts and direction from partners at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, our partners at the National Weather Service in Tampa, we'll be able to further refine those additional needed evacuations and shelter operations," said Mayfield.
While there's no mandatory evacuation at this time, Lee County Manager Desjarlais said if his family were evacuating, he'd tell them to have a full tank of gas, head north and go out of state. He said if you're going to evacuate, now's the time.
Florida Highway Patrol Lieutenant Greg Bueno agrees.
“We encourage that departure now, as opposed to waiting until the onset of the storm," said Bueno. "Because all that does is increase to the anxiety on the road and increase congestion and it takes away from our emergency responders having to respond to abandoned vehicles or crashes.”
Counties that have or plan to declare states of emergencies include: Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Sarasota, Hendry, and Manatee.
Collier County’s Public Information Coordinator Kate Albers explained why they declared a state of emergency.
“That allows us to do some things – bypass some of our procedures so that we can get help to people faster,” said Albers.
Collier County is preparing 9 evacuation shelters and 1 special needs shelter. Currently, there is a voluntary evacuation order in Collier County.