PINELLAS COUNTY - Gary Vickers, director of the county's department of Emergency Management department, updated residents from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) around 12:30 p.m. today and continued to urge residents in the mandatory evacuation areas (A, B and C) to get to a place of safety.
As of 11 a.m., all westbound traffic on the bridges to the Barrier Islands was halted. Residents leaving the island will be allowed to continue to use the bridges as long as conditions are safe. Once the winds begin to get dangerous, around 40 mph, the bridges will be closed. The drawbridges will not be opened again until the storm passes.
Vickers said the decision to close the bridges that will seal off the county would be made by law enforcement officers when conditions warrant the closure. He could give no predictions as to when that might happen.
Vickers advised any residents still on the Barrier Islands to "please come to the mainland."
Progress Energy began cutting power to the Barrier Islands at 11 a.m. All power to the Barrier Islands was expected to be cut off by 1 p.m. Maritza Iacino, with Progress Energy, explained that the power was being cut off to protect the electrical system from damage. She said the move was being made to facilitate restoring power after the storm passes.
Iacino urged residents to start conserving power, turning off lights and unnecessary appliances. People leaving their homes were advised to cut off power at the breaker box.
Vickers reported that people had started to arrive at county shelters in bigger numbers between 9 and 10 this morning. He said the population of the shelters had grown to 6,834. He said that the special care shelter at Countryside High School, which can accommodate 500 people, was full. He said the next closest shelter was East Lake on Tarpon Avenue.
Vickers basically pleaded with residents of mobile homes to leave immediately.
"Mobile homes are very vulnerable," he said. "They can't withstand 110 to 115 mph sustained winds with possible gusts to 130 mph. The just can't."
Vickers said that animal services was reporting that about 50 horses were in the park on Walsingham. People are reminded that animals are not allowed in area shelters.
The sand bag program has been halted, he said, as the county is now out of materials.
Some of the latest weather reports are showing that Charley may be moving east, meaning that Pinellas County may not bear the brunt of the storm surge. Vickers said regardless, the evacuation will continue. He pointed out that the threat of high winds, flooding and tornadoes were still viable threats.
"Our priority is still the safety of the residents of this county," he said. "The evacuation will continue until conditions make it no longer possible because its too dangerous."