Jewish communities on Florida’s Gulf Coast have joined the rest of their fellow Floridians in preparing for the anticipated impact of Hurricane Idalia, expected to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane in Florida’s “Big Bend” region sometime Wednesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.
(Ed. note: click on the above photo to see movement of the hurricane.)
The outer bands of the storm started being felt on Florida’s southwest coast Tuesday afternoon, with sustained winds reaching 90 miles per hour as the storm moved north in the Gulf of Mexico.
Life-threatening storm surge and hurricane conditions will begin tonight along Florida’s west coast, the National Hurricane Center said in its 2 pm update. Idalia’s squalls began reaching the Lower Keys and parts of Southwest Florida at midday.
St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tallahassee and even Jacksonville on Florida’s east coast are all expected to take the brunt of the storm. Officials have warned there could be storm surges of up to 15 feet in Florida’s “Big Bend” region.
There are more than half a million Jews living in South Florida alone. There are more than 51,000 Jews living in Tampa, more than 28,000 Jews living in St. Petersburg, around 13,000 Jews living in Jacksonville and around 5,000 Jews living in Tallahassee.
Tampa Torah Academy closed its classes Tuesday at 12 noon. “We are monitoring the hurricane and will send a follow up email” to determine whether there would be classes on Wednesday, the yeshiva said.
Nearing Category 2 at 2 pm ET
By 2 pm Tuesday Eastern Time, Idalia was nearing Category 2 hurricane strength with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour and higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center. Category 2 hurricanes have winds from 96 mph to 110 mph.
Some models were forecasting Idalia would reach sustained winds of between 115 mph to 120 mph before making landfall.
Tampa International Airport was set to close at midnight Tuesday and will remain closed until after the storm.
St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport closed at 3 pm Tuesday as well.
“Rapid intensification is likely through landfall, and Idalia is forecast to become an extremely dangerous major hurricane before landfall on Wednesday,” the National Hurricane Center said.
State of Emergency Declared
A state of emergency has been declared in 46 counties along 300 miles of Florida’s Gulf coast and inland, with evacuation orders in place for coastal communities.
Idalia is expected to continue its rampage once it makes landfall, continuing towards Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina before heading out to the Atlantic Ocean.
As had Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp likewise issued a state of emergency for his state.
“We are taking every precaution ahead of Hurricane Idalia’s landfall tomorrow and I am taking this additional executive action to ensure state assets are ready to respond,” Kemp wrote in a release.
DeSantis: Seek Higher Ground But Don’t Panic
DeSantis advised residents not to panic, but to seek higher ground or head to areas outside the warning area.
“Our message is to heed those warnings, particularly if you are in Zone A,” DeSantis said in a televised briefing. However, he said, “When you’re told to evacuate you do not need to get in your car and drive so you’re outrunning the storm or going to a different state or driving hundreds of miles. If you’re in a vulnerable area, evacuate to higher ground in a safe structure; homes, hotels that are on the higher ground and able to withstand this.
“Get to the higher ground, get to the place that’s going to be safe. Most of the threat that we’re going to face is going to be from the surge,” he added.
Mandatory Evacuations Ordered
Evacuation notices were issued in 21 counties, with mandatory orders in effect for some people in eight of the counties, according to the Associated Press.
Taylor County officials urged residents on Tuesday to take the warnings “extremely seriously” as the hurricane approached.
“Hurricane Idalia is a weather event unprecedented for our area. There is great potential for death and catastrophic devastation,” the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management said in a Facebook post.
“All coastal residents are mandated to evacuate, regardless of the structure. You are encouraged to evacuate in a northwestern direction.”
Mandatory evacuation was ordered in Taylor County, population slightly more than 20,000, for anyone living in a mobile home, camper trailer or any other form of substandard housing.
Citrus County ordered Zone A residents on Tuesday to “evacuate now” in preparation for a “potentially deadly weather event.”
Chevron, Navy Taking No Chances
Chevron evacuated workers from three oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of the threatened storm, the company told CNN.
The US Navy’s Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville was set to close to all non-essential personnel as of 7 pm Tuesday, according to a Facebook post by the base, home to more than 21,000 active duty and civilian personnel and 34,000 family members.
“Only mission essential personnel will have access to the station on Wednesday, Aug. 30, until the installation returns to normal operations,” wrote NAS Jacksonville, the Navy’s largest installation in the southeastern United States.
‘Prepare for Power Outages’
DeSantis said he has mobilized 5,500 National Guard personnel to help with the post-storm mission.
“There’s going to be power outages, so just prepare for that,” he noted. “If you need something from the state, submit that request as soon as possible. Contact the Florida Division of Emergency Management. We want to be helpful and get you what you need.”
President Joe Biden approved a federal declaration of a state of emergency, thereby unlocking funds to help residents get back on their feet once the storm has passed.
“We appreciate the administration for doing that,” DeSantis said.