Okeechobee County declares local state of emergency for Tropical Storm Eta

Okeechobee County Schools closed Monday; Shelters open at 4 p.m.; Sandbags available


OKEECHOBEE – As Tropical Storm Eta approaches, Okeechobee County Commissioners have declared a local state of emergency.

Two shelters in Okeechobee County will open at 4 p.m. today (Sunday, Nov. 8).

During an emergency meeting held Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse, County Public Safety Officer Ralph Franklin said Okeechobee County is under tropical storm warning and a flood watch.

Sandbag operations are under way at the County Road Department, 804 N.W. Second Street until 5 p.m.. There is a 10 bag per car limit for those who wish to pick up sandbags.  Citizens will be responsible for filling their own bags. A county employee will be present to help bag for those individuals who are in need of assistance.

The county will open two shelters at 4 p.m. today (Sunday, Nov. 8). A general population shelter will open at South Elementary School, 2468 SW Seventh Ave. This will be a pet friendly shelter. (Pets should be in carriers.)

A special needs shelter will open at the senior services center, 1690 NW Ninth Ave.

For more information, the county has opened a call center open which will be until 8 p.m.: 863-824-6888.

Mitch Smeykal of the Okeechobee County Operations Center said Eta has large rain field, and winds of 20 to 25 mph with gusts of 50 to 55 mph. He said they expect 4 to 7 inches of rain but there is a potential for 10 inches of rain or more depending on the path the storm takes.

There may also be isolated tornadoes, he added.

Parts of Floria could go to hurricane warning tonight, he explained.

Smeykal said the computer models predicting the path of the storm keep changing. “The tracks have been all over the map – literally,” said Smeykal.

He said they do not expect many people to use the shelters, as most people shelter at home during tropical storms. “We have a Red Cross team coming,” he said, noting they have precautions in place for social distancing for COVID-19 precautions. “We’ve got the COVID protection kits the state gave us,” he added.

Persons evacuating to a shelter should bring their own supplies such as blankets, pillows, toiletries/hygiene items, medications, food, water and clothing. All shelters in Okeechobee County meet the ADA requirements.

All citizens are urged to pay attention and monitor the local weather stations; prepare for the expected
increase in rainfall in advance of Tropical Storm Eta reaching South Florida; and check your storm supply
kits to be prepared! Go to https://www.ready.gov/kit to build your kit if you do not have one. With the
COVID-19 pandemic, you should also include in your kit, face mask, soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting