SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - It was two years ago today, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida. The storm was one of the strongest and costliest Atlantic hurricanes on record.
Just a week before Irma hit, we were watching the massive destruction that Hurricane Harvey caused in Houston. So many people who live right here on the Suncoast feared that Irma could unleash that same magnitude of damage.
And as Hurricane Irma drew closer to Florida, thousands of Suncoast residents joined a mass evacuation traveling north. “We felt it was to our benefit to get in the car and go. Take the dogs and go,” said Bradenton resident Susan King.
Susan and her husband Richard, along with their two dogs, made the 16-hour trip to Tennessee to stay with family. “We live in a mobile home and when we left, we expected not to have a place to come back to,” said Richard King.
But the Kings and many of their neighbors were fortunate that the Suncoast did not take a direct hit.
Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Steve Litschauer reflects on the chaotic response leading up to the storm and the lessons learned in its aftermath. He says you may not have to go that far. "Evacuate tens of miles and not hundreds of miles. Find a friend or a family member that lives in an east county or a newer home,” explained Litschauer.
But before you make the decision to evacuate, Litschauer says to make sure you have the answers to these questions. "Know the strength of your home, know the level of flooding and surge you live into, know when or when not to evacuate.”
More than 20,000 residents were protected in 25 shelters around the county, exposing one particular problem. “When it comes, we don’t have enough shelter space. Manatee County is at deficit just for our citizens. We know counties to the south don’t have enough room also and if it’s coming up the coast or coming up from the south, those millions of people have to go somewhere,” said Litschauer.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management will receive a little more than 5 and a half million dollar grant through FEMA’s assistance program to help offset the cost of protective measures while responding to the storm.