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Stay informed:
Pinellas begins to prepare for Hurricane Ivan
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PINELLAS COUNTY - County residents are glued to the weather forecasts waiting to see if Hurricane Ivan will come this way. Forecasters have yet to say with certainty which direction the storm might go after crossing Cuba on Sunday.

Downgraded to a Category 4 storm on Friday afternoon, forecasters are still uncertain of its track; however, preliminary projections say that the storm could impact the state by sometime Monday.

As of 8 p.m. Friday, Ivan was projected to pass just offshore the Gulf beaches sometime Tuesday.

The county's Disaster Advisory Committee met at noon Friday to discuss the situation. The Pinellas County Board of Commissioners met at 2 p.m. to hear the recommendations of the committee. Afterwards, it was announced that Pinellas County Commission Chairman Susan Latvala had extended the emergency executive order (04-150) put in place Sept. 3, which provides for a state of local emergency in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Frances. The order will be in effect until 11 a.m. Friday, September 17th.

The emergency order gives the Board of County Commissioners the authority to order evacuations and other emergency measures to ensure public safety during and after the storm's arrival.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, no additional information was available and evacuation orders had not been issued. But residents should stay informed, officials urge.

Residents also are urged to begin preparing - again. Sandbag locations were opening as of Friday afternoon and will remain open through the weekend and on Monday as long as supplies remain. People are reminded that they have to do the labor; sand and bags will be provided. The sandbag limit is 25 a person.

TBNWe­ekly.­com has updated its Hurricane Information Center to include more details on what to do before, during and after a storm. The links section has been expanded and now includes a link to the county shelter locations.

The site's front page features a link to the county's Web site where releases will be posted as information is released. An expanded list of contact numbers and other important information, as well as sandbag locations also are linked from the front.

TBNWe­ekly.­com also has updated its Tropical Weather Center and now has maps showing the forecast track, projected path and others, plus satellite photos and more. Maps update four times a day: Around 5 a.m., 11 a.m., 5 p.m. and 11 p.m., as information is released from the National Weather Service.

County residents are still cleaning up from Tropical Storm Frances. As of Friday afternoon, 38 customers were still without power.

For updated information about debris removal, preliminary damage reports, as well as news from several municipalities in the county, click here.

Boat owners get ready

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC's) is urging all vessel operators and owners to secure vessels now.

"Hurricane Ivan is a powerful and dangerous storm," FWC law enforcement director, Col. Julie Jones, said in a release. "Late preparations could result in danger for boat operators and rescuers."

She said all boat owners have a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect the property of others, as well as their own property, in the face of the hurricane threat.

"People who are responsible for vessels on the water should seek safe harbor, properly moor their boats, remove loose objects from decks and properly tie down anything that cannot be removed from the deck," Jones said. "Boats on trailers should be moved inland, away from potential tidal surges. Letting some air out of trailer tires, blocking wheels and adding water to the boat will add weight, and hopefully, keep it in place."

Jones said boat owners who don't heed these recommendations might impede post-hurricane emergency assistance, because improperly secured vessels can restrict navigation routes used by first responders.

Boat owners can find other important hurricane marine safety information at www.nhc.noaa.gov/HAW2/english/marine_safety.shtml. Also, the FWC recommends www.boatus.com/hurricanes/HurricaneWarning.pdf as a good Web site to help boaters prepare for hurricanes.

FWC officers are working cooperatively with municipal, county and federal law enforcement agencies and the State Attorney General's Office to enforce laws prohibiting illegal marine salvage operations. In particular, every vessel and every salvage master regularly engaging in commercial salvage operations on the Florida coast must be specially licensed by the Federal District Court. This requirement is in addition to any Coast Guard license or endorsement.

Additional tips on securing boats is available at TBNWe­ekly.­com's Hurricane Information Center.

Consumer tips

The Florida Department of Financial Services announced in a release Friday that it is mobilized to assist with insurance and banking questions and concerns.

Residents should call the toll-free hotline at (800) 22-STORM. The department has already assisted more than 17,000 Floridians coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, and many more after Frances.

Safeguard important documents such as insurance policy information, company contact numbers, and mortgage documents and take them along in the event of evacuation.

Have plenty of cash on hand since access to ATMs, debit cards and credit cards will be limited in the event of power outages.

Protect windows with plywood panels 5/8" thick. Where plywood is scarce, a second option is oriented strand board. Cover larger ones first, like bay or picture windows. Sliding glass doors are often made of tempered glass, so worry about these last.

Limit flying debris. Clean your yard and remove anything that will become airborne missiles, including dead tree limbs.

Reinforce your garage door - a home's largest single opening, next to the roof, making it vulnerable to high wind.

Batten down the hatches. Be sure to close and lock all windows, doors, skylights and vents in to prevent water intrusion.

Buy tarps. If the storm damages the roof, the area should be covered with water-resistant material, like a tarp or plastic sheeting when it is safe to do so.

After the storm:

Immediately report property damage to an insurance agent and company.

Make emergency repairs to protect from further damage, document the damage and repairs in writing, and with receipts and photos. Keep receipts for those repairs for reimbursement.

Maintain copies of the household inventory and other documentation, including photos. This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property

If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that they are licensed by calling the department's toll-free consumer helpline at (800) 342-2762.

Be sure to understand how much a public insurance adjuster is charging and what services are included before signing any contract.

Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed and reputable service people.
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