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Pinellas Storm Surge A Danger In Low-Lying Areas, Emergency Officials Say

Bob Gualtieri speaking at the podium
Courtesy: Pinellas County Government
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Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri provides an update on Pinellas County's response to Tropical Storm Elsa on July 6, 2021.

"This is a shelter-in-place operation, unless you are in a low-lying area," said Barry Burton, Pinellas County Administrator.

People who live in low-lying areas of Pinellas County were urged Tuesday morning to head to higher ground before the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa, which is expected to pack winds of higher than 60 mph this evening.

"Storms tonight will be significant. The winds are expected to be upwards of 60-65 miles an hour. And the biggest impact will be storm surge of three to five feet," Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said at an 11 am briefing.

Most people should shelter in place. But residents of low-lying areas should head to higher ground now, whether that's to a friend's house, a hotel or a shelter, he said.

The county is also limiting access to barrier islands from Tuesday at 6 p.m. until Wednesday at 7 a.m. Access will only be permitted for island residents, employees working on the islands, and visitors staying at hotels or vacation rentals on the islands.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said while it's not a mandatory evacuation order, it is a recommendation for the safety of residents and first responders.

"As we've seen in the past storms, we know what's going to happen," Gualtieri said.

"This is going to be an overnight event and people are going to wake up in the middle of the night and they're going to have three, four or five feet of water. And they're going to call and we're going to end up having to go out and do rescues."

The worst of the storm is expected between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.

"Our emergency response crews cannot respond once wind conditions reach 40 miles per hour," added Burton. "So part of this is on you to make preparations now to keep yourself safe, where our emergency crews don't have to make those calls in the middle of the night."

Cathie Perkins, director of Pinellas County Emergency Management, said the winds should arrive this evening and dissipate by morning.

"The most likely time for those tropical storm force winds to arrive is tonight by 8 p.m. with an exiting tomorrow morning at 8 a.m.," she said.

People can check their elevation and storm surge risk at storm.PinellasCounty.org.

Perkins said particular areas of concern in Pinellas County include:

  • Tarpon Springs sponge dock areas
  • Caladesi and Sherwood Forest RV park area
  • Mariner's Cove mobile home park
  • Twin City mobile home park
  • Riviera Bay Area
  • Shore Acres area
  • Downtown Gulfport
  • Crystal Beach
  • Tarpon Woods subdivision
  • Oldsmar (especially the coastal areas)
  • John's Pass Village
  • Bay Point

"Again I want to stress that if you do not feel safe sheltering in place at home, we highly recommend you seek shelter with friends, family or in hotels, or as a last resort you're welcome to come to our to open shelters," Perkins said.

One shelter is at Lealman Exchange 5175 - 45th Street North in St. Petersburg.

"This is open to general population, special needs, and for people that need pet friendly accommodations," said Perkins.

Another is Ross Norton at 1426 South Martin Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Clearwater.

"This is open to our general populations and if people show up with pets there we will coordinate with animal services to make accommodations," Perkins said.

Anyone who may need transportation assistance may call (727) 464-4333.

Counties across the greater Tampa Bay region have issued local states of emergency.

Hernando:

Hernando County announced it has issued a voluntary evacuation order for coastal zone A, mobile homes, low-lying and flood prone areas countywide.

Citrus:

A voluntary evacuation has been issued for residents who live in low-lying areas west of U.S. 19, as well as anyone residing in mobile homes, manufactured homes, and all unsafe structures.

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