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Castor, officials say 'the worst is not yet here' in Tampa Bay and urge residents to stay vigilant

09282022 HurricaneIan JaneCastor.jpg
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Tampa Mayor Jane Castor (center) and police Chief Mary O'Conner give an update on Hurricane Ian on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Castor warned of downed trees, flooding and power outages -- and told people if they haven't evacuated by now, they should stay where they are. O’Connor said the city is enhancing penalties for those charged with property crimes during the storm.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said, while Pinellas officials say the county could experience 110 mph winds, heavy rains and storm surge through Thursday morning.

Although Hurricane Ian has taken a turn to the east away from Tampa Bay, emergency management officials in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are warning residents to continue safety precautions.

The “worst is not yet here,” Pinellas officials said in an email Wednesday morning. “Our area could experience wind speeds up to 110 miles per hour, storm surge and heavy rain through Thursday morning.

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor asked people to remain vigilant, saying, "we're not out of the woods yet."

“You know, it may be calm outside, we've seen the waters recede in Tampa Bay, some people are out taking the photographs along Bayshore (Boulevard). But that is the calm before the storm,” she said.

"We're still going to see, more than likely, unprecedented flooding in our area with 18 to 20 inches of rainwater coming in later this evening. And we're also going to have tropical storm force winds and possibly Category 1 hurricane winds here in the Tampa Bay area."

Dangers remain until Ian has passed through the state.

“As the storm moves slowly across Florida, conditions in the Tampa Bay area are expected to worsen throughout the day, even if the storm remains to the south, Pinellas officials said.

Flash flooding and strengthening winds have combined to create hazards making it no longer safe to be on the road, Hillsborough officials said in an email Wednesday morning.

Castor warned of downed trees, flooding and power outages — and told people if they haven't evacuated by now, they should stay where they are.

Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor also said people they shouldn’t drive through flooded streets, saying that most vehicles will be flooded by as little as 6 inches of standing water.

O’Connor also said the city is enhancing penalties for those charged with property crimes during the storm, pointing to two people arrested Tuesday night outside the IKEA furniture store on Adamo Drive at North 22nd Street.

“They had numerous burglary tools in their possession, walkie-talkies, flashlights, it appeared they were definitely planning on doing something at the IKEA,” O’Connor said. “They were charged accordingly.”

Residents are also urged to continue sheltering. Do not attempt to relocate to a county emergency shelter or any other location.

“Breaks in the weather do not mean the storm has passed,” Pinellas officials said.

Emergency officials will announce when shelter and evacuation orders are lifted.

Officials included these reminders:

  • If you do experience an emergency, call 911 and report the issue. Emergency crews will respond as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • If there is a need to take cover, find an interior room away from windows and skylights. Bring water into your safe room in case you cannot exit due to storm debris.
  • If flooding is a threat, turn off electricity at the main breaker.
  • Keep cellphones and electronic devices charged in case of power loss. Checking in with family through texting or social media can be more reliable than phone service.
  • In case of electricity loss, flashlights or chemical sticks are safer to use than candles.
  • Keep storm shutters and windows closed until the storm has completely passed.
  • Once storm conditions subside, do not leave your home until officials announce that it is safe.
  • Emergency responders, equipment, and partner agencies are in place and ready to respond.
I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.
Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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