Residents, officials plan for emergency evacuations
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As News4Jax and the National Weather Service continue to track Tropical Storm Erika, one major concern that officials and residents may be faced with is the need to evacuate large groups of people in a short time.
With bridges connecting much of Jacksonville, many people have concerns about which bridges may be closed if Erika does hit The River City.
Though no specifics bridges have been mentioned, mayor's office spokesman Bill Spann said that Mayor Lenny Curry has been working with major agencies to make sure plans are in place for an emergency, covering all aspects of the city to keep people safe.
"We won't know yet until we see which way the storm may or may not come. It may not even hit us. It may just curve off and become a surf and rain. It could be a direct hit. There's no way to predict it right now," Spann said. "I can tell you that the city will be ready if Erica hits the city. That is a solid guarantee. Mayor Curry said that today and he said that yesterday. If Erica hits Jacksonville, Jacksonville will be ready."
The Florida Department of Transportation is also closely monitoring Erika and it says if the weather becomes severe they have plans in place to deal with it.
Right now FDOT has a lot of plans to deal with an influx of traffic in one direction with their last resort plan being getting all the construction crews off every major interstate and making them all one way.
When Hurricane Floyd hit Florida in 1999, something that came with the storm was gridlock, something Ron Tittle, who's with FDOT, remembers well.
"During Hurricane Floyd my wife was evacuating, she was late leaving work. She had her son, had her little dog, so they were on Interstate 95 trying to get up and go to Interstate 10 while I'm trying to tell her to go to Valdosta. She was stranded on the expressway and it was just backed up and she was calling me saying I can't go (anywhere)," Tittle said.
Since the chaos of the mass evacuation during Floyd, causing Tittle's wife and thousands of others to be caught in a traffic nightmare, the state has passed a plan for lane reversals on major interstates like I-95 and I-10 and it doesn't always need to be focused statewide, sometimes it can be just in your backyard.
"The important thing from the emergency management perspective is that you may not evacuate hundreds of miles, you may evacuate tens of miles. So listen to your emergency management, that's important," Tittle said.
Tittle, who's now the department spokesperson for FDOT locally said that total interstate lane reversals are a last resort plan if there are major evacuations from a section of the state. And if the governor does order it, the FDOT would need a lot of manpower to help. Everyone from local law enforcement to possibly the National Guard.
"We'd have to have a lot of law enforcement to secure the entrance and exit ways. Make sure we can move traffic efficiently. So it's really labor intensive," Tittle said.
He also said the FDOT is continually watching the track of Erika and they hope the impact on Florida will be minimal, avoiding the need to go to the extreme of lane reversals.
"At some point in time, if it's the last resort, the governor would make a decision about the reverse lane process. We did some practices years ago and so we have plans for these things, but we've not implemented that in years," Tittle said.
Tittle also said that residents can always call 511 and check the FDOT website for any important updates if a major storm does hit Florida.
He also said the FDOT has a phone app, just search for Florida 511 in the app store or on Google Play, that can give updates on any major changes to the roadways in the event of an emergency.
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