LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – As storm surge threatens homes on the Gulf Coast and along Tampa Bay, people are seeking refuge further east in Polk County.
“It is what it is. I’d rather be alive and I hope my house is there when I get back. I hope my house isn’t flooded,” said Gini Roberts, who lives in an evacuation zone in South Tampa.
She came to the Hilton Garden Inn in Lakeland Tuesday afternoon with some necessities and her little dog, Harry. Roberts has sought shelter at this same hotel in hurricanes before.
“We left and we’ll be alive and they’re just things. I have a lot of family heirlooms in my house, a lot of ancestry information,” she said.
Eastbound traffic on I-4 out of the Tampa area was congested Monday night into Tuesday as people fled the serious storm surge threat from Hurricane Ian.
“Part of our shelter strategy is to anticipate evacuees from the Tampa Bay region,” Polk County Emergency Management Director Paul Womble said.
The county opened 19 emergency shelters at schools on Tuesday, including pet-friendly and special needs shelters for people from other counties or within Polk.
Polk County does not have evacuation zones because there is no threat of storm surge.
However, people are advised to evacuate if they live in low-lying flood-prone areas or are vulnerable to hurricane-force winds.
“We have threats from wind as the storm passes by. We have increasing threats from tornadoes as feeder bands move through and we have increasing threat for a lot of rain in a short amount of time,” said Womble.
That is why some people sought shelter at George Jenkins High School Tuesday.
“It’s not safe. I have family,” said Jamie Rodriguez, who lives in a mobile home in Lakeland.
“The life is first. The life is first,” said Nicole Torres Vigo.
“It’s not good to take chances so if I think that it’s not stable enough, I might as well go ahead and look for a shelter,” said Victor Gonzalez, who lives in Lakeland.
Tom Patton, the principal at George Jenkins High School, said the school has seen anywhere between 16 people to 600 people in past storms.
“It does make you feel good like you’re giving something back to the community, giving them that peace of mind at least for a little while until they’ve got to go back out and figure things out,” said Tom Patton.
Shelters are available in Polk County beginning at noon Tuesday:
|Horizons Elementary School||1700 Forest Lake Dr, Davenport|
|Sleepy Hill Elementary School||2285 Sleepy Hill Rd, Lakeland|
|R. Bruce Wagner Elementary School||5500 Yates Rd, Lakeland|
|Chain Of Lakes Elementary School||7001 Hwy 653, Winter Haven|
|Mulberry Middle School||500 SE Martin Luther King Jr Ave, Mulberry|
|Spessard Holland Elementary||2342 E.F. Griffin Rd, Bartow|
|Auburndale High School||1 Bloodhound Trail, Auburndale|
|Citrus Ridge Academy||1775 Sand Mine Rd, Davenport|
|George Jenkins High School||6000 Lakeland Highlands Rd, Lakeland|
|Highlands Grove Elementary||4510 Lakeland Highlands Rd, Lakeland|
|Kathleen High School||1100 Red Devil Way, Lakeland|
|Lake Marion Creek Middle School||3055 Lake Marion Creek Dr, Poinciana|
|Winter Haven High School||600 6th St SE, Winter Haven|
Pet friendly shelters that will be open Tuesday, September 27 at 12:00 p.m. are located here:
|Tenoroc High School||4905 Saddle Creek Rd., Lakeland|
|Lake Region High School||1995 Thunder Road, Eagle Lake|
|Haines City High School||2800 Hornet Drive, Haines City|
Pet owners must bring shot records for their pets, an airline-approved carrying case or crate and pet food.
Special Needs shelters will also open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, for those residents with special medical needs. Polk County Emergency Management’s Special Needs Program is designed to provide shelter and/or transportation for residents with medical or physical conditions and/or dependent on medical electrical equipment who require assistance during an emergency.
The Special Needs shelters are located at:
|FDOH Polk Specialty Care Unit||1255 Brice Blvd., Bartow|
|McKeel Academy||1810 W. Parker St., Lakeland|
|Ridge Community High School||500 Orchid Dr., Davenport|