TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor held a press conference Tuesday morning to update the public on the City of Tampa’s emergency operations that are currently in place as Hurricane Ian approaches the Bay area.
During the conference, Tampa police Chief Mary O’Connor said burglaries and thefts committed in the midst of the local state of emergency will have enhanced penalties.
“A burglary would normally be a second-degree felony, and it will be upgraded to a first-degree felony,” she said.
“I want to stress that we are protecting our businesses and homes from burglary and theft,” she added.
She also said that all suspects would be required to have a first appearance before bonding out.
“That’s going to be delayed as the courts will be closed for the next couple of days,” she said.
Police say it will be all hands on deck the next few days.
“There will be a ton of police officers out there patrolling the communities and the neighborhoods,” Sgt. Roni Hill said.
Hill is in charge of District 3, which includes Ybor City.
“You’ll see a lot of cop cars out there being proactive and just making sure we patrol business districts to make sure they’re not targeted during the storm,” the sergeant said.
As Hurricane Ian inches closer to Florida, businesses across Tampa have boarded up windows to protect their property.
“Right now, we’re building a frame that will act as a skeleton to put up the plywood that would protect these glass windows,” explained Carlos Hermida, who owns a business on 7th Avenue in Ybor City.
After heavy rain flooded Ybor streets in early June, Hermida said other business owners are taking the threat of the hurricane seriously.
“Especially the ones that felt the heat from COVID really want to protect and stay open and want to make this sure this won’t affect their business in the long term,” Hermida said.
Residents were told to expect a variety of flood water conditions including flash floods, overflowing of storm drains, retention ponds, and rivers. Officials said floodwaters may affect roadways, homes, and buildings. Prolonged flooding is also expected after the storm, especially from rivers.
Mayor Jane Castor said the city is doing everything it can before storms arrive.
“This is going to affect a lot of individuals,” Castor said.
On Tuesday, Hillsborough County officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents in Zones A and B. The orders affect approximately 390,000 people.
“This storm is not to be taken lightly,” Castor added. “This is not the time to stay. We are talking about a 10 to 15-foot surge.”
Castor said residents in a mandatory evacuation zone or those in low-lying areas do not have to go far, “you just have to go onto high ground.” She added, “We hide from the wind and run from the water.”
Those who need transportation to an emergency shelter can use HART or Uber at no charge, according to the Tampa police chief.
County officials asked residents to limit water usage during power outages. Water pressure can drop causing potential contamination.
While TECO initially planned to conduct a partial shutdown of certain parts of the power grid, it will no longer be doing so now that Ian’s track shows a more southern path toward landfall, lowering the risk of devastating storm surge.
In an earlier press conference, O’Connor said that city residents can expect to see a curfew put in place by Tuesday evening. However, Castor clarified that the curfew was not imminent and depended on Hurricane Ian’s path and discussions with the county.
This is a developing story. For the latest Max Defender 8 updates on Hurricane Ian, click here.