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Residents urged to get ready, to evacuate ... now!
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PINELLAS COUNTY - County officials and leaders from municipalities throughout the county are urging people to finish making their plans and to get to wherever they're going - now.

Bridges to the Barrier Islands will be closed to those traveling to those areas at 11 a.m. Residents trying to get off will be allowed for as long as conditions are safe enough to leave the bridges open.

Officials are telling boat owners that the drawbridges to the barrier islands will not be raised again today. Officials are telling residents that the bridges will probably begin to close by around noon.

The 9 a.m. report from the National Weather Service Hurricane Center predicts the county could experience storm surge flooding of 10 to 13 feet. The worst of the storm surge will be most possible near and south of where the center of the storm crosses the coast.

Rainfall totals of 4 to 8 inches are possible. Flash floods are predicted. Isolated tornadoes are possible. Damaging winds of up to 110 mph also are possible.

Hurricane Charley is expected to come ashore in or near the Tampa Bay area later today or this evening. The latest word from the experts is that residents in the county and surrounding counties have until about noon to get ready and get moved - if they live in evacuation areas A, B, or C. Click here to see an evacuation map. People in mobile home parks, no matter where they live in the county are strongly urged to leave now.

Marcia Crawley, with the county's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) gave an update around 9:30 a.m. and very strongly urged all residents of mobile homes to evacuate immediately.

She said people who live in mobile homes should be prepared for the worst.

"Your home might not be there when you get back," she said.

Throughout the evening residents and experts had hoped for a miracle - that Charley would change its track. Now, as the hours click by, it is becoming more certain that the county will be severely impacted by this storm.

As of 9 a.m. today, Charley was still a Category 2 storm but there is still a possibility that the storm might build to a Category 3. The difference in those two ranking is only 1 mph - 110 mph maximum vs. 111 mph minimum.

Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst expressed concern at a press conference this morning because area shelters are not yet full.

"This is a matter of life and death," he said. "This is a serious storm. If you live in an evacuation zone, you have got to get to a shelter now."

Aungst said too many people were still complacent and not facing the reality of the situation.

"We've had so many near misses in the past," Aungst said. "But if the storm remains on track at its same rate, there's going to be a lot of damage."

Florida Power is beginning to implement plans that call for shutting down power to some vulnerable areas to protect their equipment. The company also reports that crews are already mobilizing to be ready to start work on repairs as soon as the storm passes.

Residents are urged to stay away from downed power lines. The number to report downed lines and electrical outages is (800) 228-8485.

Maritza Iacino with Progress Energy urges residents to begin conserving power now. She asks that people turn off unnecessary lights and appliances and to adjust air conditioning systems as much as possible and still maintain a comfort level. She advises those who are evacuating to turn off their power at the circuit breaker before leaving.

Officials are beginning to talk about the "aftermath" and plans for the cleanup.

Meanwhile, time is passing quickly. Residents could now have less than 2 hours to finish their preparations and to get to shelter. will continue to update the situation for as long as it's safe.

We urge everyone to take steps to be safe.
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