Forecasted to be a Category 4 hurricane by the time it made landfall in Florida, Hurricane Irma’s unpredictability began to cause widespread anxiety throughout the Sunshine State as Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Sept. 3.
While almost seven million were faced with evacuation orders and south Florida experienced a mass exodus, the American Red Cross Capital Area chapter in Tallahassee was well prepared for the approaching hurricane and evacuees. Over 30 shelters were opened within 24 hours in 12 counties, including 14 shelters in Leon County. 125 recovery vehicles were on standby.
Sharon Tyler, the executive director for the American Red Cross chapter in Tallahassee, was grateful for the outpouring of community assistance, including numerous volunteers that were trained one week before Hurricane Irma approached the area.
“We trained over 600 new volunteers that came in and worked with us and helped us. (It) just shows the generosity and the compassion of our community,” said Tyler.
Local restaurants, businesses, city and county governments provided security, food, water and other supplies on the day of the hurricane that fed volunteers and evacuees.
“…We tried to go above and beyond what our normal evacuation shelter is and we were able to do that because of the generosity of our community,” added Tyler.
In comparison to Hurricane Hermine that tore Tallahassee apart, Tyler expressed that their chapter was totally prepared for Hermine but thinks the community was not as prepared for Hurricane Hermine as they were for Irma. She believes the shock of destruction left by Hurricane Harvey in Texas pushed the state of Florida to be better prepared for Hurricane Irma.
Luckily, Hurricane Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm for the Big Bend region by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
By Sept. 10, the threat of Hurricane Irma’s strength began to seriously impact operations in Leon County. The City of Tallahassee issued a curfew for public safety and to clear roads for utility companies to proactively station their units throughout town.
A mandatory closing was issued for all schools and universities in the state to cease operations until Monday, Sept. 11. “Closing public schools, state colleges, state universities and state offices will provide local and state emergency officials the flexibility necessary to support shelter and emergency response efforts,” wrote Scott in a press release on Sept. 7.
Following Scott’s orders, Florida A&M University announced the closure of all its main satellite campuses due to the magnitude of the storm and remained closed until Sept. 15.
In the middle of classes and other highly anticipated events including the President’s Convocation, Set Friday and the Annual Grape Harvest Festival being cancelled, the Bragg Memorial Stadium grounds were turned into an operations base for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Over 900 FEMA personnel were stationed on campus for hurricane relief efforts. Foster-Tanner Recital Hall turned into a shelter for 42 students and 17 non-students, according to FAMU News.
“This has indeed been a challenging week throughout Florida and the Caribbean, and there is indeed a lot of work that must be done for many communities to be fully restored. Please know that Florida A&M University and our many constituents are fully aware of our obligation to be of service to those citizens in need wherever they are,” wrote Interim President Larry Robinson in a letter to the university.
This was a double byline story with Sydne Vigille.