The Village of Royal Palm Beach has spent much of the past week preparing for the potential effects of Hurricane Irma.
“I think we’re going to be ready, and I think tomorrow and Friday, especially the first half of Friday, people need to have everything done by then,” Mayor Fred Pinto told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “If they’ve got shutters, have those shutters up and in place by then, and then we’ll hope for the best.”
From an individual and family standpoint, Pinto said preservation of water is very important to have at home, along with food and supplies that can sustain a household for five to seven days.
“Go put water in the bathtub, and put water in different containers and jars,” Pinto said. “You can use that water. That water is usable. We have a tendency to forget that water that comes into our homes is drinkable because we’re so used to drinking bottled water.”
For those who must get their hands on a supply of bottled water or other store-bought products, he suggests getting to stores early.
“I suggest to people who may not have had a chance to acquire extra water or even gas or other supplies that they need, get to the stores first thing in the morning,” Pinto said. “There may be a line there, but, for example, if you go to Home Depot early in the morning, their shipment will come in, and it will go very quickly. So, if you’re there, you’ll have a chance to get some of those supplies that you need.”
When it comes to the question of “should I stay, or should I go,” Pinto said that it has reached the late hours to make the decision for evacuation to a different part of the state or leaving the state itself.
“The problem with this storm is that it’s going north. The storm is going to chase you, because if it makes a main landfall the way it looks, it goes up the general spine of Florida. So, it’s a challenge to try to even evacuate at this late time,” he said.
Pinto said that if people have the means to safely prepare for the storm, they should prepare their homes as best as they can and try to hunker down at home.
As for the village, there are no evacuation requirements at this time because it is considered to be located in an area unlikely to be affected by storm surges.
“But if people feel like they want to evacuate the area, they should’ve been gone already. If they leave at this point, it’s kind of late,” Pinto said. “The traffic situation is going to be very bad.”
Royal Palm Beach updated its emergency plan last year after the experience it had preparing for Hurricane Matthew, which did not cause major damage to the area.
“We realized we needed to activate our emergency plan earlier than last year, and the reason for that is we realized we need to give our employees a chance to go home and get their situation prepared and their homes prepared, and their families prepared before they can report back to our 24-hour shift, once we went into emergency operations mode,” Pinto said.
So, moving forward, the village canceled its scheduled council meeting on Thursday, Sept. 7, and it has shut down all village operations for Friday, Sept. 8 and Monday, Sept. 11. The emergency operations center will be open and running during the hours that regular operations have ceased and continue as needed.
“That will be operational 24/7 during the storm event,” Pinto said. “What we do there, is we stay in touch with the local agencies that we may need for support or emergency situations. We stay in touch with the county’s EOC, to make sure that we’re synced into what’s going on and what information they may have for us to make sure that we’re operating as we should.”
Pinto has been in contact with the county and the state for potential assistance needs in the future after the damages that may occur while the storm passes.
“I have been in contact with the governor’s office. They reached out and contacted me earlier this afternoon, and as an additional support, they’re available. I can call if we need something that’s at their level,” Pinto said. “And I’ve been in contact with our county commissioner, Melissa McKinlay from District 6, also extending any additional support that we may need.”
In recent days, Pinto said people have asked him about shelters during or after the storm.
“We don’t have any shelters in our physical geographic area of the village,” Pinto said. “The closest shelter is at Seminole Ridge High School, located on Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.”
Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington is also designated as a county storm shelter. The county will be opening shelters starting Friday at 10 a.m.
Village officials continue to stay updated with the path of Irma.
“We are going to be assessing what the situation is,” Pinto said. “We’re preparing for the worst, but are hoping for the best.”