As Hurricane Dorian grows stronger, reaching Category 5 strength on Sunday, and the latest forecast models show it shifting eastward away from Florida, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said now is not the time to let your guard down.
"There are no watches or warnings in effect (for our area) now," Curry said.
He said the city is working around the clock, and based on current information, evacuation and closure decisions will be made Monday morning, but that timeline could shift if conditions change.
The mayor and other city officials and agency leaders will have a live update at 5 p.m. Sunday. You can watch that live on News4Jax.com and Channel 4.
For now, Duval County Schools will be open on Tuesday unless something changes with the storm and causes more than likely a coastal impact on Jacksonville.
The mayor urged all citizens to stay tuned into the news for the latest weather updates and to know your zone, in case evacuations are ordered.
Officials said while the movement to the east by Hurricane Dorian is good news for our area, the storm could also just as easily shift back in the opposite direction.
"We have been through this a number of times in the state of Florida and now in Jacksonville," Curry said Friday. "Don't mistake the fact that the storm has slowed down, that you can sit around and do nothing. You know, we could have an event that requires evacuation and assistance in these homes."
Curry urged recreational boaters not to venture out this weekend and beachgoers to stay out of the water.
"It's going to be really nasty out there," he said.
Duval County's beaches will close at midnight Sunday and no one will be allowed on the beach beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Curry stood with the sheriff, school superintendent and head of emergency operations urging residents to pay attention to the long term, as Jacksonville may not feel any effects of the storm until late Tuesday or Wednesday.
"You got tide levels that are up, and it's looking like significant rain," Curry said. "Use this weekend to mitigate and prepare, pay attention and know your zone."
Making reference to Hurricane Irma two years ago, the mayor ended Friday's briefing with: "Here we go again."
The city has activated its emergency operations center and personnel will monitor the storm’s progress from there. Public works crews are out clearing debris and looking for ways to maximize the city’s drainage capacity before the storm.
The fire department is preparing for high-water rescues.
Chief Judge Mark Mahon has ordered the Duval County Courthouse, including the clerk's office, closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. All jury service for the week has been canceled, so anyone who received a summons for jury duty the week of Sept. 3 is dismissed from service.
Trash pickup will continue normally as long as conditions allow, which would certainly be through Tuesday, although putting anything outside would be discouraged if winds pick up as it could become flying debris.
Residents who don't know their evacuation zones can find them using the city's interactive evacuation zone map on JaxReady.com. Anyone with questions that aren't considered immediate medical emergencies should call 904-630-CITY. Because of the approaching storm, that number will be staffed through the holiday weekend.
The city's preparations come as Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties, including Baker, Bradford, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, St. Johns and Union here in Northeast Florida. The declaration allows the state to mobilize a wide range of resources. On Thursday, DeSantis joined Curry for a news briefing at the emergency operations center, where they discussed storm preparation.
The mayor said the city and governor's office have a great working relationship.
Curry said flooding, downed power lines, wind events and road hazards are among the potential dangers that would lead the city to order any evacuations.
“We don’t know where this is going to go. It’s time to be calm. Make sure you have your kits. Make sure you know your zone," he said.
Flood-prone neighborhoods wary
People living in the city's South Shores neighborhood along the St. Johns River, a historically flood-prone area, have been keeping close tabs on Dorian's path. Two years ago, many of the homes in that neighborhood were flooded by high waters stemming from Hurricane Irma.
Carl McCall, who lives in the neighborhood, is waiting to finalize the sale of his home to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of a buyout because of frequent flooding in the area. He was hoping to leave town on Thursday, but those plans now hinge on what the hurricane does.
"With everything working the way it is here, it could easily be what we saw last time," McCall said.
Those who live or work in low-lying areas along Hogans Creek in the Springfield neighborhood aren't taking any chances with Hurricane Dorian, either. Bill Crime of the Scottish Rite Cathedral said water usually comes to the door, so he's preparing for the worst-case scenario.
"This whole area will be underwater," Crime said.
The mayor warned that high tides could be a factor in this storm, much like what Jacksonville saw when winds shifted and kept the water level high along the St. Johns River longer during Hurricane Irma.
"There is a storm front ahead of this event," the mayor said. "In the event that this develops, we all need to do what we've done in previous years and stick together as a community and be ready."
When Irma struck, many homes along Ken Knight Drive near the Ribault River were damaged from floodwaters that were mixed with sewer water. Leroy Bradley said his home flooded while he was asleep.
"I was in the house when the waters came, but I managed to get out," Bradley said. "I came back and saw what the hurricane had done."
Bradley said there was about three or four feet of water in his house. Trash and debris that washed in from the river was left in the streets and front yards.
With Dorian threatening Florida's east coast, Bradley said he's paying close attention to weather reports.
"I'm waiting to see how things play out," Bradley said.
JEA prepares for Dorian
Based on lessons gleaned from hurricanes Matthew and Irma, JEA crews have been trimming trees throughout the city to head off the problem of falling limbs hitting power lines. The city utility has also shored up sewage controls at wastewater stations by adding more generators.
JEA CEO Aaron Zahn said the utility has updated technology to make sure the restoration process runs smoothly for customers. He urged customers with special needs to register at JEA.com.
Emergency shelter available
The City Rescue Mission's New Life Inn, located at 234 W. State Street, will offer emergency shelter to 100 additional guests including men, women and children beginning on Sunday. Doors open for check-in starting at 1:30 p.m. Those who have checked in at the shelter can stay there all day on Monday or until the worst of the storm has passed through the area.
Guests do not need to worry about bringing blankets, pillows or food as City Rescue Mission will provide those items for all guests.
"We will not turn anyone away," City Rescue Mission's Executive Director Penny Kievet said. "CRM is here to provide a safe and secure shelter for all those needing to take refuge during severe weather conditions."
Below you'll find an infographic explaining the emergency operation center's activation levels:
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