OKEECHOBEE -- There is no curfew for Okeechobee County residents at this time, according to Sheriff Noel Stephen. The sheriff and Fire/Rescue Chief Ralph Franklin held a press conference at the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office at 1 p.m. today (Sept. 20).
The sheriff, who is empowered to declared curfews by the county's declaration of a state of emergency, said he will not impose a curfew unless high winds and/or damages create a public safety issue.
The sheriff says he has increased deputy patrols in the residential areas to prevent break-ins into vacant homes.
There are no mandatory evacuations for Okeechobee County. Voluntary evacuations have been suggested for those who live in low lying areas, those who live in areas prone to flooding and for residents who live in older mobile homes or any structure that would not be safe in high winds.
The sheriff advised those who plan to leave the area to do so while it is still safe to travel. He said if winds are 40 mph or higher, it is not safe to be on the roads.
If Okeechobee County is damaged by Hurricane Dorian, the sheriff asked that all residents refrain from riding around afterwards to look at the damages. He asked everyone stay put until emergency officials can make sure the roads are safe from hazards such as downed power lines and storm debris.
If you live in Okeechobee and are leaving town, please don't post it on social media, advises the sheriff. Posting your evacuation plans on social media lets criminals know whose property is available for burglaries. Call the Okeechobee City Police at 863 763 5521 or the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office at 863 763 3117 and asked to have your address put on extra patrol list. This will also mean law enforcement officials will have a way to contact you if they discover a problem at your residence while you are gone.
Okeechobee County has two shelters open. The Special Medical Needs Shelter at 804 N.W. Second Street requires registration. For those who did not register in advance, forms are available at the shelter.
The general population shelter is open at South Elementary School, 2568 S.W. Seventh St. This is a pet friendly shelter. Pets must be in crates. Owners are asked to bring food and supplies for the pets and the county registration tags. Those who do not have county registration tags for their pets may register at the shelter and obtain county tags for $5 per pet. (Tags are required by county statute, and usually issued by veterinarians when the dog or cat is vaccinated against rabies.)
Chief Franklin said the county is well positioned to deal with the impacts which we may or may not have from Hurricane Dorian. While the current forecast track for the storm keeps the massive and powerful hurricane offshore, local residents who remember Hurricane Charlie and Hurricane Jeanne know the track can change. He advised everyone to stay safe and stay vigilant.
The chief and the sheriff stressed that anyone who has questions about the storm track, shelter openings or any other storm-related issues should call the Emergency Operation Center call center at 863-824-6888. Do not call 911 for storm-related information.