^By VICTORIA VILLANUEVA-MARQUEZ

Staff Writer

NORTH PORT — Hurricane Dorian is forecast to strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane, and residents along the east coast of Florida are preparing for a hard blow this Labor Day weekend.

But those living along the west coast have not dropped their guard, with many stocking up on emergency supplies and topping off their gas tanks.

Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane said the entire state will feel some effects from the intensifying hurricane.

Sarasota County residents, he said, still have some time to prepare for the storm, which is projected to reach Florida on Monday afternoon.

McCrane urged residents to use this time to put up hurricane shutters and purchase at least one week’s worth of food. He noted that some local grocery stores have already begun to run out of water and supplies.

Residents stock up early

North Port resident Brenda Leddy filled several gas cans with her husband, Kevin, at the Marathon gas station along Tamiami Trail Wednesday afternoon. The two moved to Florida from Tennessee in April, and began preparing for their first hurricane season in May.

“We’re a little bit worried,” Brenda said. “But we have friends, here, and our neighbors who have been through it. So they’ve been talking us through what’s going on. We’re just trying to get everything ready.”

A few pumps away, North Port resident Jeff Higgins leaned over more than a few gas cans, filling each to the brim. He moved back to Florida from Connecticut about six months ago, and said he’s not too worried about the approaching storm.

“It’s a good thing that it’s not hitting us directly, so I’m not really concerned,” Higgins said. “I just expect to lose power, but other than that I’ll just wait it out.”

Will you need a ride to a shelter?

Should emergency management officials call for an evacuation, Sarasota County residents are eligible to receive free bus transportation to a shelter.

The service is provided by the county as a last resort to residents who cannot drive or cannot get transportation from friends, relatives or neighbors.

Residents will meet at designated rally points, and will then catch a bus to shelters throughout the county.

There are nine rally points in South Sarasota County, including Laurel Park, Venice Community Center, Suncoast Technical College, Garden Elementary School, George Mullen Activity Center, North Port Library, Taylor Ranch Elementary, Buchan Airport Community Park and Englewood Sports Complex.

Passengers cannot choose which shelter they would like to be taken to, and baggage is limited to two carry-on sized bags per person that can either be stored under a seat or held in the passenger’s lap.

Those traveling with pets must keep them in a crate or carrier, and it is recommended that passengers bring any supplies their pets may need, according to the county’s website.

All transportation will cease within eight hours of landfall, and rally points may change depending on the severity of the storm.

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