At 6:30 AM on October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma made landfall at Cape Romano, seven miles south of Marco Island, with 125 mph winds and torrential rain. Wilma, a Category 3 hurricane, left widespread damage to South Florida that was estimated at $22.3 billion dollars. Approximately 3.2 million South Florida residents were left without power in the days and weeks following the storm.
Eleven years later, Florida’s population has grown by 2.1 million, with the majority never having experienced a hurricane. I recommend that all new Florida residents take time to review this hurricane guide and create a family emergency plan before an actual storm threatens the area. Preparation is the key to keeping you and your family safe during this hurricane season.
Marco Island and other low-lying areas are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. Most homes and businesses on the island are only 9 to 11 feet above sea level. Due to its storm surge vulnerability, Marco Island residents normally face a mandatory evacuation for Category 1 hurricanes and above.
What does a mandatory evacuation order mean? It means that due to life threatening conditions, a local state of emergency has been declared. Local emergency management officials have determined that it is unsafe for you to remain in your home during a storm. You will not be forced from your home. However, you may be asked for information regarding your next of kin if you choose to stay.
When should you evacuate? If ordered to evacuate, do not wait or delay your departure. Even a slight delay could result in significantly longer travel times as traffic increases and congestion worsens. All evacuation measures must be taken before the arrival of sustained tropical storm force winds (i.e., greater than 45 miles per hour). Once winds reach tropical storm force, there will be damage from falling powerlines and trees. Therefore, all public safety personnel in the affected areas will seek shelter and emergency services will be limited until a threat no longer exists.
If possible, evacuate to homes of family or friends in a non-vulnerable area. If not possible, try a hotel or motel. Keep in mind that most hotels and motels will fill quickly once an evacuation order has been issued. Go to a shelter as a last resort.
Tips for safe evacuation:
Stay alert to storm advisories
Enact your family’s (including pets) emergency plan
Map out your primary and secondary evacuation routes
Fill your car with gasoline in advance of the storm
Evacuate if instructed to do so
Bring your emergency supply kit, including important family documents (i.e., insurance, medical)
Secure your home
Get cash in advance of the storm
Notify family and friends of your plans
Every hurricane is unique, so don’t base your decision to evacuate on prior storms. Evacuating your home for a hurricane is inconvenient, but the consequences of not evacuating could be far worse. For more information, or to create your family’s emergency plan, go to www.floridadisaster.org and click on Get a Family Plan.