Palm Beach County ramps up preparations for Tropical Storm Isaac

 

Storm preparations intensified Saturday in Palm Beach County, as the powerful fringes of Tropical Storm Isaac threatened to lash the area Sunday and Monday.

A local state of emergency was declared at 3 p.m. Saturday. Extra sheriff's deputies and Fire-Rescue crews were placed on alert, along with other emergency responders who could be called into action if the storm veers closer to the county.

By Saturday night, rains and winds in Palm Beach County were expected to increase, with tropical force winds hitting the area early Sunday. Wind speeds could range from 40 to 45 mph, with gusts up to 55 mph, possibly lasting until Monday morning.

Five to 10 inches of rain could fall in parts of the county, which likely means flooding in some areas, said Assistant County Administrator Vince Bonvento, who coordinates the county's emergency response.

"We would strongly encourage people to stay off the roads," he said. "Don't take this lightly."

The Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center went to activation level 2, bringing a core group of emergency management officials from the county and other local agencies together to monitor the storm and coordinate responses.

County emergency management officials on Sunday plan to talk with city, school and state representatives to determine if schools and government facilities will be open Monday.

The county planned to open three emergency shelters at 6 a.m. Sunday for the homeless and anyone who doesn't want to ride out the storm in their homes, such as those living in flood-prone areas.

Several public services announced plans to close Sunday, including county libraries, county parks, Palm Tran fixed-route bus service and Palm Tran Connection service. Sunday activities in Palm Beach County schools were canceled, although as of Saturday afternoon the school district said there were no plans to cancel school on Monday.

"The tropical force winds have really expanded way out from the eye," Bonvento said. "This thing keeps changing day to day."

The Coast Guard set Condition Yankee for the Port of Palm Beach, Port Everglades and Port of Miami, closing the ports to inbound traffic greater than 500 tons.

Florida Power & Light activated its emergency response plan, establishing 12 staging areas throughout South Florida and confirming commitments from other companies to field more than 7,700 workers to restore power. The company said high winds and debris could knock out overhead lines and flooding could disable underground lines.

"Isaac is expected to produce strong, sustained winds and rain that will cause power outages. We're in full storm mode, with more than 7,700 workers dedicated to the restoration effort," said FPL President Eric Silagy in a news release. "In an effort to restore power as quickly as possible, as conditions permit, our crews will be working throughout the event as bands of severe weather from Isaac cause power outages. Safety is our first priority, and we urge our customers to stay safe and make their preparations, too."

The Palm Beach County shelters opening at 6 a.m. Sunday include: Saint John First Missionary Baptist Church, 600 Southwest 8th Street in Belle Glade; Westgate Park and Recreation Center, 3691 Oswego Ave. in West Palm Beach; and West Boynton Park and Recreation Center, 6000 Northtree Boulevard west of Lake Worth.

In Broward County, which stands to take a harder blow from the storm, public schools were canceled Monday. Catholic schools in Broward and Miami-Dade counties also canceled classes Monday.

Pembroke Pines authorities advised residents of the Holly Lake Mobile Home Community to evacuate.

At a crowded Shell station on University Drive in Davie, Ron Ferrigno filled up a red container with gasoline, which he planned to pour into a generator not used since Hurricane Wilma. Having lived through Hurricane Andrew, he's learned to not take chances as powerful storms approach.

"I hope it shifts, but you never can tell," he said of Tropical Storm Isaac's path.

Down the road from the gas station, residents packed the Home Depot on University Drive to stock up on plywood, batteries and water. Carmen and Johnny Rodriguez of Hollywood bought batteries and other supplies to prepare. While driving to Home Depot they said they said two car accidents.

"It's hectic out there, everybody's getting ready, going different directions on the road," said Johnny Rodriguez.

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