PINELLAS COUNTY - Just after noon today, the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve recommendations to declare a state of emergency and issued a mandatory evacuation order for areas A, B, and C.
Residents in the areas, colored in purple, blue and green on the evacuation map, are asked to begin making plans to leave their residences by 6 p.m. today. According to Gary Vickers with Emergency Management, it will take until 6 p.m. to get shelters and transportation systems ready to support the evacuation order.
Schools will be closed Friday.
Vickers and Steve Spratt, county administrator, advised the commissioners that Charley is expected to strengthen to a Category 3 hurricane before making land "on top of Pinellas County" late Friday. Vickers and Spratt stressed that emergency workers will need 14 to 19 hours to get people protected as by 2 p.m. Friday, tropical force winds should begin to make evacuation efforts unsafe and maybe even impossible.
Storm surge will be the biggest danger along Tampa Bay and the Barrier Islands.
According to a release from the county, the evacuation areas will include Palms of Pasadena Hospital and about seven nursing homes. Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Pinellas County School Board will provide transportation assistance for preplanned facilities. The School Board and American Red Cross will provide predetermined shelters for those who need them after 6 p.m.
Evacuations will cease when conditions reach tropical storm force winds of 40 mph. Bridges may also close at this time.
Law enforcement officials will begin going through neighborhoods, using loud speakers, informing people of the evacuation order.
Vickers reported that 380,000 people would need to be moved to safety. He said shelters are expected to receive about 104,000 people.
People who do not know their evacuation levels are urged to call 453-3150 for information. The information is also available on the county's Web site; however, Spratt reported that the site is experiencing technical difficulties due to the increase in traffic.
More information will be posted here as it becomes available. Later today, we will be posting additional information to help people ride out the storm.
People are urged to take immediate steps to get ready to evacuate. People outside the evacuation areas are also urged to get ready.