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Island cities, officials ‘on track’ for hurricane season

A boat batters the Historic Bridge Street Pier during the passage of Tropical Storm Debby in the Gulf of Mexico in July 2012. Nine boats broke anchor nearby and crashed into the city pier, which suffered substantial damage. Islander File Photo

Officials from Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach attended the 28th annual Governor’s Conference on Hurricanes in Orlando May 16-18.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon, along with BBPD Lt. John Cosby, public works superintendent Tom Woodard and Commissioner Jack Clarke attended the conference. So did Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer and superintendent of public works Tom O’Brien.

Shearon said he was happy with what he learned as a first-time attendee: “It was very amazing to learn all the factors figured in an evacuation. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes activity and preparation.”

He said Cosby has prepared the city’s evacuation and emergency plans for a number of years.

“We went just to make sure our plan was updated. We have it ready, and Cosby is very experienced. We’re on track with what the conference said we should have,” Shearon said.

“One thing I did learn is that preparedness is important. Not just the city, but residents. I can’t stress enough that residents should have their hurricane supplies. The conference said three days of food and water, but I’m going to have seven days,” he said.

“And evacuate when you are told. Help may not be there if you stay and the island gets flooded. This entire island is a flood zone.”

Shearon said the conference stressed a number of issues, including evacuation of people with special needs, availability of law enforcement to direct an evacuation and to check for returning residents after a hurricane, and availability of a cleanup company to remove debris from city roads.

“After attending the conference, I’m satisfied with our plan as it is,” he said.

Holmes Beach has had a hurricane evacuation and emergency plan in place for years.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said no one from that city attended, but she and public works supervisor George McKay have attended previous conferences, and went to Manatee County’s emergency operations center May 22 for hurricane planning. Officials of all three island cities were at the EOC for the event in advance of storm season, which begins June 1.

“We have a hurricane emergency plan ready if needed and we’re pleased it’s up to date,” she said.

All three island cities will govern from a facility at the State College of Florida in Bradenton in the event of an island evacuation, SueLynn said.

Forecasters attribute the low number of hurricanes predicted for this season to El Nino, which creates a westerly wind shear that slows hurricane development.

“If we have a robust El Nino, then the numbers will be much lower, and this could be one of the least active years in recent memory,” Accuweather.com senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said.

Accuweather predicted five hurricanes of category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale for the 2014 season.

But Shearon said forecasters at the conference said the eastern Gulf of Mexico is “particularly vulnerable” if a tropical storm or hurricane comes up from the Caribbean.

“It only takes one storm,” SueLynn added. “And it’s all about being prepared. The city is ready, and we want residents to be ready.”

She noted that from 2001-10, a number of hurricanes passed many miles west of the island and struck other Gulf coast states, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We’ve been lucky, but the storms eroded a lot of beach area and we had significant debris that had to be cleaned up. And those storms were several hundred miles from the island.”

She agreed with Shearon that island residents should have a “be prepared” list of items in case of a weather event.

“Obviously, you need flashlights, batteries, drinking water, canned and non-perishable foods and other emergency items,” she said. If there are babies in the house, disposable diapers are a must.

Other items on a household hurricane list include first-aid supplies, and storage of important documents, such as passports, birth certificates, deeds and titles, the mayor added.

SueLynn said she believed the last tropical storm/hurricane to come ashore near the island was September 2001, when Tropical Storm Gabrielle made landfall near Venice, about 25 miles south of Anna Maria Island.

“There was a lot of beach erosion, downed trees and damaged structures, and that was just a tropical storm,” she said.

“Let’s be ready for a hurricane.”

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