By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH
ENGLEWOOD — Some laughed when Ellen Pinder recommended if pet owners evacuating for a hurricane show up to a shelter with 16 cats, they better have 16 cages and bring lots of cat food.
The Charlotte County Emergency Management coordinator wasn’t trying to be funny. She was serious about bringing provisions for pets like cats, dogs — and even goats — that arrive at hurricane shelters.
Pinder spoke to a packed house at the Tringali Center during a hurricane seminar sponsored by the Englewood Community Health Action Team.
“When a person arrives with cats, our animal control staff will say: ‘Let’s get those cats registered,’” Pinder said. “If a person brings a goat, we still have to have a plan in place to bring it into the shelter.”
While Pinder brought up pets, Sarasota County Emergency Manager Ed McCrane said sometimes evacuees can be delusional.
“Some people expect valet parking when they come to an evacuation center,” he said. “They want a room with a TV, their own cot, blankets and a menu. We tell people to bring their own water, food, blankets, batteries, phone charges and additional supplies to the evacuation center.”
McCrane said there are 11 shelters in Sarasota County before a hurricane. None offer menus or valet parking. Some are for residents with medical needs.
There are no Red Cross certified shelters in Charlotte County. Those residents are welcome in Sarasota County shelters, but anyone with medical needs should register in advance.
McCrane said there are a few rally points in Englewood for any resident planning to evacuate before a hurricane. The county sends a bus to the Englewood Sports Complex for Englewood residents to go to shelters in North Port or Sarasota.
McCrane said there are changes in some directives since the Category 5 Hurricane Michael hit Florida in October 2018.
“We used to say you need enough supplies for 72 hours after a storm,” he said. “We’ve changed it to one week’s worth of supplies. After Hurricane Michael, it took crews three days to cut down trees and remove obstacles to get to the people trapped in Mexico Beach.”
McCrane said when planning to leave town during an evacuation, plan to use alternative routes like U.S. 301 or U.S. 17. He said before Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, some reported it took nine hours to get from Venice to Georgia on Interstate 75.
Pinder said while McCrane touched on having an evacuation plan, it must be done now instead of before a storm warning. If the plan is to stay at a hotel, evacuees should map out the route and an alternate route if roads are closed. She said if a couple plans to stay at a friend’s house across the state, they should talk ahead of time.
“If you will be at Bob and Sally’s house, but you realize they are on a cruise, do you have a key to their front door?” she asked. “You can’t evacuate there if the house is locked up.”
Longtime resident Bruce Pomeroy asked why there wasn’t a shelter at L.A. Ainger Middle School in Englewood.
“It has never flooded in 28 years,” Pomeroy told McCrane. “I don’t understand why we can’t have a shelter in East Englewood.”
McCrane said all of Englewood lies in a hurricane A or B zone, and the state and federal government doesn’t allow for any shelters in these zones. He said storm surge could flood a shelter in these zones and emergency managers won’t endanger evacuees.
McCrane said in addition to having a hurricane evacuation plan, it’s important to know that in Florida, first responders such as EMTs, paramedics, police and firefighters don’t respond in wind speeds of 45 mph or higher.
Englewood residents Mike and Danette Williams moved to the area from Ohio. They attended the seminar to learn more.
“We gave up blizzards for hurricanes,” Mike Williams joked. “We don’t have a real hurricane plans so we came to find out what to do and how to properly prepare... We need to know about safe places to evacuate. The more we know, the better off we will be if a hurricane threatens our area.”