Central Florida is preparing for a potential hit as Hurricane Irma strengthened Tuesday to a Category 5 storm.
The National Hurricane Center has warned that Irma’s 185 mph winds could make the storm “potentially catastrophic.”
Some grocery store water shelves have been emptied and local officials warned residents not to be complacent and to continuously monitor the storm.
The last time Orlando was hit, three successive hurricanes Charlie, Frances and Jeanne made landfall within six weeks in 2004.
“Don’t use wishful thinking that it is going to go off into the Atlantic or into the gulf,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “I think at this point we have to make an assumption that it will have an impact. So everybody should be prepared for that.”
The City of Orlando will give sandbags to help residents prepare for the potential impact of Hurricane Irma. Residents must show proof of residence and will be given 10 bags per address. The sandbags will be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the City of Orlando Streets and Stormwater Division, 1010 Woods Avenue.
The city also is advising residents to prepare an emergency kit, including one gallon of water per person per day, a three-day supply of food, medications, a battery powered radio, and batteries, which can be used if the power fails or to take during an evacuation.
Winter Park residents also can pick up 12 sandbags from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Public Works Compound, 1409 Howell Branch Road.
Gov. Rick Scott activated the Florida Air and Army National Guard Tuesday with 100 members called up immediately and all 7,000 members told to report for duty Friday morning.
He also suspended tolls on all Florida roads starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Generators sold out Tuesday at the Home Depot on Colonial Drive in Orlando but a Home Depot spokesman said that their hurricane distribution center in Lakeland is working to replenish stores of all hurricane supplies.
“Once a storm like Irma is spotted, we quickly alert stores in the potential strike zone and start mobilizing supplies to the area,” said Matt Harrigan, spokesman for Home Depot. “If needed, we will send associates from across the country to assist in disaster areas, ensuring that stores are able to reopen and provide volunteer support in the community through Team Depot, our associate-led volunteer force.”
Local theme parks are also enacting emergency plans to protect guests and employees in case Irma heads toward Central Florida.
Last year, Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios closed early on Oct. 6 and all day Oct. 7 during Hurricane Matthew’s visit.
Walt Disney World has a disaster relief center, where staffers continuously monitor weather reports and keep a close eye on the hurricane’s track.
If a hurricane is projected to hit within 72 hours, Disney will issue advisories to guests with reservations, offering refunds and allowing them to make other arrangements.
“At SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica, we are closely monitoring the progress and track of Hurricane Irma,” said a statement released by SeaWorld. “Our parks have comprehensive weather preparedness plans to ensure the safety of our guests, employees and animals.”
The emergency management team at Orlando International Airport is monitoring weather conditions and working with National Weather Service and city, county and state officials.
Airline representatives, concessions, and service providers met Tuesday afternoon to discuss plans for responding to the potential impact of Hurricane Irma.
Airlines have been advised to remove items that could pose wind hazards around the property and preparations for tying down jet bridges, protecting and covering equipment curbside and ticket lobby areas, according to Carolyn Fennell, airport spokeswoman.