As Irma Swirls Toward Florida, Alabama Prepares
For the time being at least, Alabama appears to be outside of the path of Hurricane Irma, the deadly storm swirling 145-mile-per-hour winds over the Caribbean. Irma is expected to hit Florida later this week. According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, the Category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph. The latest forecasts show minimal impact on Alabama. But on Wednesday officials with the state Emergency Management Agency said they are preparing for the worst.
Officials have begun coordinating with key state agencies, from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Public Health. Yasamie Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Alabama EMA, said churches and shelters in several Alabama counties are preparing to take in evacuees. Blount County told the EMA late Wednesday it will open a church to evacuees, and so the Talladega Superspeedway will house those fleeing the storms as needed.
Richardson said the EMA has contacted the state’s big box retailers to check on supplies. “They are making sure everything is remaining stocked here in Alabama, so we’re not feeling too big of an impact from resources being utilized in other states,” she said.
A Walmart spokesman late Wednesday said distribution centers are sending extra supplies to stores in Hurricane Irma’s path, and to nearby states like Alabama that might receive evacuees. Regan Dickens, a Walmart spokesman, said rather than draw items off of Alabama’s shelves, the retailer will pull from distribution centers in other regions of the country. That includes products in high demand such as water, flashlights, and bread. “We’ve shipped out over 550 palettes of just batteries,” Dickens said. Efforts to bolster stores in and around Irma’s path will continue through the rest of this week, he said.
September is National Preparedness Month, and the EMA is urging residents to have emergency plans in place.
On Wednesday, Gov. Kay Ivey asked residents to continue to watch the storm closely. “While the models project a track that does not directly impact Alabama, we must remain vigilant in both our monitoring and preparation,” Ivey said in a statement. She asked residents to review preparedness plans and update in their emergency preparedness kits. “Once our state is cleared of the risk of major impacts, we can then evaluate the level of assistance we can provide to our sister states in our region,” she said.
State highway officials are preparing for a large influx of people coming into the state. “During the next few days, we should expect heavy traffic along Alabama-Florida routes,” Alabama Secretary of Law Enforcement Hal Taylor said. “We ask Alabama motorists to account for this heavier traffic flow in their travel plans, remain patient with other motorists, and choose alternate routes when possible.”
Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said maintenance crews are ready to help with transportation-related relief efforts.